Let’s play a quick game of Jeopardy. I’ll choose the category: Potent Presidential Hopefuls.
Answer: This nationally famous presidential candidate hailing from New York planned to enter the second stage of a celebrated political career by announcing a U.S. Senate run in 2000. This figure was famous for wearing strangely colored dresses; hailed for a progressive stance on gay rights; noted for being outspoken on liberal issues like abortion and gun control; firm on issues of decency in the public square; and regarded as a presidential favorite.
Confused? We’ll try another one.
Answer: Hailed as one of the nation’s staunchest advocates for security in the Sept. 12 world, this Republican has established himself as the torchbearer of the Bush administration’s muscular global leadership and tough stance on terror. In a party dominated by religion and moral concerns, he is the presumptive front-runner, leading nationally and in key primary states like Florida and California.
For either clue, if you said “Who is Rudy Giuliani?” then you’re right. You’re also not the only person who’s asking — it’s a very good question. You could make an accurate description of Rudy Giuliani sound like the Wikipedia bio of Hillary Clinton. Or you could make him sound like George Bush III. So which Rudy is running?
On some issues, Giuliani hasn’t changed his tune since he left New York City in 2001. As mayor, he was never afraid to take the ax to taxes — 23 times during his tenure. On issues like education, he has espoused a free-market solution, trumpeted voucher programs and slammed unions and special interests. He continues to place free-market principles at the front of his foreign and domestic policy.
But on other issues, it’s hard to know where Giuliani would place himself. As mayor, he once said of illegal immigrants: “If you come here, and you work hard, and you happen to be in an undocumented status, you’re one of the people who we want in this city.” But on the campaign trail, he has shifted his talking points toward tough penalties and beefy border security. Gun control was a hallmark of Giuliani’s impressive anti-crime record in New York. On the campaign trail, that record only reminds gun-rights activists that Giuliani’s faith in the Second Amendment is less than absolute.
So far he has managed to whitewash his socially liberal past by emphasizing a foreign policy vision that could make George W. Bush look like a little schoolgirl. The embodiment of Sept. 11, Giuliani has called for raising more than 40,000 new soldiers for the Army; expanding the missile defense system; and building “constellations of satellites” to make America’s surveillance system ubiquitous. Giuliani’s strange foreign policy — articulated with vague muscularity in this Foreign Affairs statement — first presupposes that, in a post-Sept. 11 world, “our old assumptions about conflict between nation-states fell away.” But then, his plan to win the new war — Let’s flood their markets with Pepsi! Let’s distort all the lessons from the Vietnam War! Let’s build an impenetrable missile bubble! — sounds like the dregs of Cold War strategy.
Running as the Sept. 11 candidate only works when voters are in the Sept. 11 mindset. Evangelical voters, for instance, might be deaf and dumb, but they aren’t blind. It was only a matter of time before the Christian bloc band together to protest an election where the two most serious candidates are the Mormon of Mammon and the Mayor of Manlove. Now a group of Christian voters is calling on a third-party candidate to represent the conservative, Christian, pro-life agenda, a schism that would be apocalyptic for the party.
With so many contradictory stances on social issues, Giuliani’s best solution is to adopt a libertarian attitude toward social morality. I find it a strange, yet welcome, evolution: By refusing to talk about his own religion, he relegates faith to its proper place in politics. It’s about time Jesus’ millennial disciples follow His advice to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and leave the churchy stuff in church.
Smart money is on Giuliani to pull off an upset worthy of his namesake. Voters like him for the same reason they liked George W.: They get a good gut feelin’ about him. Here, again, Giuliani benefits from weak competition. Fred Thompson is an actor and Mitt Romney is an investment banker. Neither occupation fits snugly into a narrative for blue-collar Missourian voters. So here’s where we stand: If Republicans had to nominate their candidate today, the winner would be a socially liberal former New York City mayor who lived with his gay neighbors after his second divorce in the same year that he held Donald Trump’s face between his fake breasts in a video for a New York Press Gala. Might be time to think of another G-word to fill out GOP (and I’m not thinking of Giuliani).
We’re still in October, which is a political epoch away from the January primaries. But conservatives are getting desperate for a leader who can convey strength and substance and sincerity at the same time. Right now, Rudy is their man. But, as in Jeopardy, he is an answer in the form of a question.