Political junkies who are speculating about the 2008 presidential election give Rudy Giuliani long odds of capturing the Republican nomination because of his liberal views on abortion and gay rights. Many articles have been written on how he should deal with this potential liability. In a column earlier this year, John Podhoretz suggested that Giuliani simply become pro-life (link unavailable). I think this would be a bad move, because though becoming pro-life may mitigate a potential liability, it would also undermine Giuliani’s greatest political asset: his unwavering conviction. Should Giuliani make an about-face on abortion it would tarnish his image as a strong leader who doesn’t change his views with the wind.
An alternate way for Giuliani to make inroads would be to position himself to the far right on economic issues to court conservatives who are fed up with the runaway spending of the GOP. This would not contradict any prior positions Giuliani held as mayor, where he cut taxes (despite pressure to raise them during a budget crunch) and cut spending as much as he could given the overwhelmingly Democratic city council. He also drastically reduced welfare rolls during his tenure. New York City even ran a surplus at one point when he was mayor.
Social conservatives are often among the most vociferous in their opposition to the way Republicans have abandoned fiscal responsibility. If Giuliani were to unveil a long list of government programs that he would cut, and resurrect the Reaganite rhetoric of small government, it would endear him to many of these conservatives–especially if he combines this with his aura as a no-nonsense leader who gets stuff done. The most ardent social conservatives probably won’t vote for him anyway, but such an approach by Giuliani could at least placate them so they’d oppose him less forcefully. Should he get the nomination, I don’t think running to the right on fiscal issues would hurt him in the general election as much as it might hurt the typical Republican, because Giuliani’s moderate stances on social issues would make it difficult for Democrats to portray him as a complete extremist.
One additional thing to keep in mind is that what happens with the U.S. Supreme Court during the remainder of President Bush’s term could be a factor in 2008. John Paul Stevens is 85. Should he retire in the next few years, that would mean Bush would have gotten three picks. If they all turn out to be reliable conservative votes, social conservatives may become a little more passive in 2008. If, however, (soon to be Chief Justice) Roberts turns out to be too moderate and whoever else Bush nominates turns out to be equally disappointing to social conservatives, the group may be foaming at the mouth come 2008, and more likely to mount a strong opposition to a Giuliani nomination. This is a whole lot of speculation, but that’s what blogs are for.