If I Were Rudy Giuliani: On Abortion
(I'm not, you'll be happy to know.)
Usually, "advice" posts directed at politicians are a complete waste of time. They might sound good at first, but often miss some key strategic insight about the principal they address that make them nonstarters. But as Rudy gears up for a Presidential run, I'd like to do a series of posts taking a critical look at the obstacles that stand in his way and what he needs to do to overcome them. You may conclude that these posts are a waste of time like others of their ilk, but what makes the blog great is that you can comment and refine the ideas. Does this plan suck? Can it be improved? Not only is criticism permitted -- it's welcomed.
Let's first address the issue of abortion. How can Rudy get past the Republican primary electorate with his pro-choice position on abortion?
First, talk straight. Don't do what Mitt Romney did, which is dissemble about your current or past position. A man's entitled to change his mind, but labeling oneself "neither pro-life or pro-choice?" (A total of two Americans are neither pro-life or pro-choice, and both are probably overambitious politicians.) Rudy has an existing image as a decisive straight shooter to protect and can't be "reintroduced" to the voters, so he's stuck with the position he has. Just explain that, and try to build some respect around the fact that he's taken an unpopular position, he knows it, and won't kowtow for votes on it. It shows a lot more self-confidence than brazen flip-flopping, and self-confidence is what Rudy's about.
Whenever he talks about the issue, he must speak clearly and his position must be easy to understand. This is a very basic, black-and-white issue to people, and any candidate needs to approach it that way. He also can't seem defensive, like he's trying to change the subject. That will only invite attack. Instead, talk about the issue at length, hash it out, and make it old news by the time the first primaries roll around.
Judges, judges, judges. Rudy MUST pledge to appoint strict constructionist judges to the Federal bench, and in fact, has already indicated that he would. He should also explicitly make clear that the fate of Roe v. Wade doesn't especially matter to him (I think he said as much when interviewed about Chief Justice Roberts last year). I doubt he could call for the overthrow of Roe without drawing a red card for flipping, but he could sidestep the issue by saying he wouldn't want to prejudice potential appointees and/or signaling that he can reconcile his pro-choice position with state legislatures making their own choices about abortion in their states if it came to that.
Ultimately, the judges argument is a VERY good fit for Rudy because it fits with his prosecutorial, criminal justice background. Rudy is the one candidate in the race with most experience with judges and the judiciary. He understands what it means to have judges who won't undermine the prosecution's case against criminals, or who won't throw out national security laws on civil liberties grounds. As I've discussed before, judges isn't just a social issue. It's a gateway issue touching national security (NSA, Hamdan), property rights (Kelo), and social policy (Goodrich, Lawrence). Rudy can credibly position himself as a conservative hero on this and effectively cover for his weakness on the most central element of the abortion debate.
Change on PBA. Though he won't change on the underlying issue, it will be necessary to walk back some intemperate statements on PBA made in the heat of the New York Senate race against Hillary Clinton. As someone who's interested in seeking common ground in this debate, Rudy should make clear that he won't stand in the way of a modest restriction on the procedure favored by the vast majority of Americans, and he should mock judicial holdings against PBA bans as an extraconstitutional reach. It's also a matter of Rudy saying that he's talked to people of good heart, and changed his mind on this one issue -- but not on everything. That's what a leader does. You listen, you learn, and admit it when you're wrong.
Respect for the party he leads. Rudy should make clear very early that he understands that he seeks to lead a pro-life party, that he won't seek to change or water down the Republican platform, and won't weigh in either way on the abortion debate within the Republican Party. Similar to how Harry Reid and Bob Casey can function as prominent leaders and candidates for the Democrats, emphasize that it wouldn't be his goal to actively promote a pro-choice position within the party, a la Arlen Specter or Christie Whitman. He'd be more of an honest broker on the issue.
Federalism. Give a speech to the Federalist Society in early 2007 dwelling on the need for federalism and local solutions. Whatever the decisions we make on these difficult issues, they are best made closest to the people. To the extent that Rudy must give voice or explain his pro-choice position, say simply that if he were a state legislator, he might vote one way on the issue -- but then note curtly that he's not: he'd be the President and would have to represent all the people. To him, being pro-choice not just on this issue but on many issues means that the Federal government doesn't have the answer to problems, and that we need to seek solutions that spring up closest to the people.
What do you think? How would you tweak/add/refine to this plan?