RUDY 2.0. Following on Scott's post on Rudy Giuliani's bold coming out as pro-choice, part of what this reveals is just how amateurish an effort the Giuliani campaign has been so far. Abortion was the key stumbling block to his getting the nomination, and to hear him talk about it over the last couple of weeks, including in the debate, one would have thought he hadn't really given much thought to what he would say when he got asked about it. Hearing him say "I hate abortion" over and over reminded me of John Kerry talking about how he'd "kill the terrorists" -- something that somebody thought was a good way to convey the right image, but felt really uncomfortable. And now, after a few embarrassing weeks trying to thread an impossibly tiny needle, the Giuliani campaign seems to have said, "Well, that didn't work. What's plan B?" And plan B, apparently, is an effort to put his pro-choice views right there on the table, and hope nobody bothers to talk about it anymore. I wonder what plan C is.
The thing is, as a Republican primary issue, abortion isn't an end in itself. It's a stand-in for a larger worldview, one that says sex is dirty, women ought to know their place, and sinners need to be punished. Now when it comes to punishing people, nobody can hold a candle to Rudy Giuliani. But his biggest problem is that he's from New York. Even a New York conservative has a cosmopolitanism that signals to GOP primary voters that at a fundamental level, Giuliani is not one of them. And there are few things Republican voters care more about than that a candidate is one of them. There are a hundred different dog-whistle ways candidates have to communicate this, and Rudy seems to understand almost none of them. For instance, when he responded to a question about Roe v. Wade by saying it would be OK with him if a "strict constructionist judge" upheld it, it just made no sense to his intended audience. To Republicans "strict constructionist" means opposed to Roe, no ifs, ands, or buts.
To be "one of us," a Republican candidate has to show he's right with God, that gay people make his skin crawl, and that he has "[insert home state here] values." The fact of that construction (which admittedly is often also used by Democrats in the South and Midwest) indicates that its targets are thinking tribally: you're one of us or not, you have our values or you have alien values. But people from places like where Rudy's from don't think this way or respond to that kind of appeal. Even in New York, nobody talks about "New York values." I doubt any New Yorkers would be able to define them if you asked. I grew up in New Jersey, and I can't recall ever hearing anything about "New Jersey values." (Side note: A few years back, the Garden State held a contest to pick its new advertising slogan. My entry was, "New Jersey: F**k me? No, f**k you." If you're not from there, you wouldn't understand.)
The point is, as Rudy will soon find out, he just isn't one of them. As Phyllis Schlafly (yes, she's still alive, and sporting much the same hairdo she had in 1964) said, "A lot of people just don't know about his background...New York is like another country to most of the rest of the country." There's no question that he's the most interesting of the Republican candidates (and mostly not in a good way). I'll miss him when he's gone, which will be long before the Republican convention.
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