Coveting Religious-Right Support, Giuliani Deploys Promise on Judicial Nominations

Last month, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention declared Rudy Giuliani’s campaign for president doomed, citing the former New York mayor’s reputation as a supporter of gay rights and a woman’s right to choose. He told The Hill that “If [Giuliani] wins, he’ll do so without social conservatives” – a result Land considered impossible. But less than two weeks later, Giuliani garnered a warm reception at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he side-stepped social wedge issues and emphasized his supposedly Reagan-like leadership qualities in the context of 9/11. Conservative columnist Bob Novak declared Giuliani “the big winner here,” and he came in second to Mitt Romney in the CPAC straw poll. Unlike Romney, noted Novak, “Giuliani had not stacked the crowd with supporters,” a strategy that casts doubt on Romney’s first-place showing. And Giuliani continues to top polls of primary voters.

According to Novak, “Some activists expressed dismay that so many conservatives would cheer Giuliani without even making him offer anything for the Right” – apparently flying in the face of what every other Republican candidate has been doing for the past few months. But it’s still early in the campaign. Giuliani is scheduled to speak at Pat Robertson’s Regent University next month, and the televangelist himself has declared that the former mayor “did a super job running the city of New York and I think he’d make a good president.” Last year, he helped raise money for Ralph Reed, an unsuccessful candidate for Georgia lieutenant governor who is better known as the former head of the Christian Coalition and one of the seminal organizers of the Religious Right in the late 80s and 90s.

And recently, he has been making promises to the far Right on an issue that could be seen as a calculated revision of his abortion position: judges. “On the federal judiciary I would want judges who are strict constructionists because I am,” he announced in South Carolina. And he offered specific praise for right-wing members of the Supreme Court: “I think those are the kinds of justices I would appoint — Scalia, Alito and Roberts.” Such statements fall short of the ham-handed pandering of long-shot candidate Rep. Duncan Hunter (“If any judicial candidate comes before me and can look at a sonogram … and not see valuable life, then I will not appoint him,” said Hunter to applause at CPAC), but they do echo almost exactly the words President George W. Bush deployed when he was campaigning for the office.

These gestures, combined with Giuliani’s popularity, have caused some conservative pundits to wonder if the Religious Right will be willing to “make a deal” with Giuliani and overlook supposed “liberalism” on social issues for a “new social conservatism” as “an ethical or cultural conservative who in the end will protect the values that most conservative Republicans hold dear.”

So far, anti-abortion activists have made clear their response: “No Deal, Rudy,” as the National Catholic Register put it in an editorial. Gary Bauer said the “strict constructionists” line is not enough (“You have got to say ‘I want judges that will overturn Roe’”), and Bauer’s associate Daniel Allott summarized his position like this: “A Giuliani presidency would perhaps protect America from the scourge of Islamic terror, but it would also perpetuate and reaffirm a scourge that has already taken the lives of over 50 million innocents.”

“Any pro-lifer who believes they are going to get the kind of judge out of Rudy Giuliani that we see in either Roberts or Alito is probably going to be disappointed,” said Connie Mackey of the Family Research Council, alluding to a recent report characterizing Giuliani’s nominees when mayor as “lean[ing] left.” Phyllis Schlafly called the pandering out as too clumsy: “The grass roots are more sophisticated than that.” And James Antle of the American Spectator warned that supporting Giuliani could jinx the Right: “How could pro-lifers ever object to any pro-choice candidate again — Republican or Democrat — if they overlook Giuliani’s current positions and past pronouncements?”

Already, Giuliani’s competitors are taking advantage of this rift between the Religious Right and the GOP’s leading candidate. “He is pro-choice. He is pro-gay marriage and anti-gun,” Mitt Romney told CBN. “That’s a tough combination in a Republican primary.”

But again, it’s still early. Giuliani returned to his right-wing promise on judicial nominations in a press conference on Monday morning, declaring that “Because of my view of the Constitution and how important it is to our freedom, I would do everything I could to appoint judges who would interpret the Constitution rather than execute their own social policy.” And as Bauer pointed out, this squabbling plays into the hands of the Religious Right by setting these social wedge issues as the terms of the GOP primary race. “That virtually guarantees that our issues will be in the headlines in the months ahead.”