Religious Right Persecution Syndrome
Howie Kurtz brings up the Rudy question... before quickly dismissing it, stating pre-emptively that a "pro-choice" and "pro-gay rights" candidate cannot win the Republican nomination. Very often, media figures repeat this assertion with no analysis and no justification, as if it were a self-evident fact. But is it?
To be sure, Rudy supporters need to confront some brutal truths. There is a large segment of the Republican base -- perhaps 30 to 40 percent -- for whom social issues are a very big deal and who will not be able to reconcile themselves to Rudy's past positions on these subjects. Assume that Rudy starts out with 40% of primary voters who will never support him.
But what about the other 60?
The truth is, though many Republicans won't be able to bring themselves to vote for Rudy, the number of Republicans who will never vote for McCain is almost certainly larger. Their reasons may not be as sexy, but they run the gamut -- immigration, CFR, Gang of 14, taxes, pandering to the MSM, disloyalty to the President, and most likely some combination of all of the above. However, the media isn't able to process the depth of base anger towards McCain because it doesn't fit the one-dimensional social-issue prism through which they view everything in Republican politics.
Every time the Republican platform is debated, it has to just be about abortion. Everytime a RINO Republican is challenged, it has to just be about abortion. Everytime Republicans come out of the woodwork and vote in higher numbers than Democrats, it's always because of abortion, gays, and "values voters," and never about taxes, judges, and the war.
As a social conservative and member of the base, this has always puzzled me, because it's really NOT all about abortion. Social issue voters are about a third of the Republican coalition, fiscal conservatives being another keystone group, as are military/national security conservatives. They don't utterly dominate everything, even in Iowa, contrary to popular belief.
And recent indications are that pure-play social issues are losing their potency in cementing the Republican coalition. Let's look at the issues that have and haven't "excited" conservatives in the recent past.
The Federal Marriage Amendment failed to excite the conservative base, and was even attacked as a red-meat ploy to divert attention from the issue that really mattered -- namely immigration. The Schiavo bill also failed to energize the conservative base. Stem cells is another one -- you hear barely a peep about it from the activist Christian groups on the right.
Calls to build a wall along the border, on the other hand, have excited the conservative base, as have calls to cut federal pork. The Roberts and Alito nominations were mildly exciting to the conservative base -- but they brought to the table the whole package: the prospect of better jurisprudence on Roe (social conservatives), Kelo (economic conservatives) and Hamdan (national security conservatives). Conservatives have taken a keen interest in the judiciary because activist judges are an obstacle to Constitutional government across the board, not just on cultural matters. (Hence the belief that if Rudy comes around on judges, it trumps whatever his stated positions are on the specific issues.) None of the issues that have galvanized conservatives in the last eighteen months have had any conspicuous cultural overtones.
Perhaps this is just an issue of reporters projecting. Perhaps it's social issues that preoccupy them -- if not the actual Republican base writ large. (More than a few have called the civil rights movement the catalyst for their journalistic careers.) It's not hard to reach the conclusion that if you personally are as far as it gets from a Republican, anyone who shares your views on anything important doesn't have much of a chance of being the Republican candidate. You see this especially in New York-based publications like the Observer, who have a hard time coming to grips that one of their own could play well with the heathen masses outside Manhattan. You saw this, poignantly, with Jewish voters in the 2000 election, many of whom had mixed feelings about Joe Lieberman as they felt it would stir up the old ghosts of discimination. No one who's like me could ever possibly get elected.
These suspicions are not without foundation. Not just any New Yorker could win the nomination and the White House on the Republican ticket (George Pataki -- don't even try). Not just any pro-choicer could waltz in and take the party with him. But as a conservative, pro-life, non-Manhattanite, 20-year observer of politics, I'm telling you that Rudy is the one who can, and it's because of the one word that defines what the Presidency is all about.