The spirit of Ronald Reagan was invoked as a cadence on Saturday morning at the Values Voter Summit, first by Bill Bennett—Reagan’s Secretary of Education, who emphasized the need to nominate a candidate who understands the need to prevent a “preemptive cultural surrender” in the war on terrorism—and then by Rudy Giuliani, who was working hard to make the skeptical audience think of his “leadership” rather than his position on social wedge issues.
For Giuliani, the Values Voter Summit is the lion’s den, as many of the religious-right groups and leaders involved in the conference have warned of the perils of Giuliani winning the Republican nomination—notably James Dobson, being honored at tonight’s dinner, who promised to bolt the party rather than vote for Giuliani.
And so Giuliani’s appeal was an attempt to neutralize Dobson, by massaging the Right’s objections through a evocation of “shared values and shared goals,” and by emphasizing the importance of the “terrorists’ war on us.” Giuliani touted his reputation as the mayor who fought crime and cleaned up Times Square—“I bet you’re not afraid to come [to New York City] anymore, huh?” he said. And he repeated many of the mantras of the conference, such as, “We need to stand up to those who try to drive traditional religious expression out of public life … Freedom of religion is not freedom from religion.” He talked about adoption and promised to support existing restrictions on abortion, and perhaps some new ones such as national parental notification. And, of course, he vowed to appoint judges “in the mold of” Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts.
Giuliani assured the religious-right activists, “You have absolutely nothing to fear from me,” and he even linked the social issues in question to his position on terrorism: “I’ll protect the values that we share, just like I’ll protect us from the enemies we face.”
The Hilton Washington Hotel is also known around D.C. as the Hinckley Hilton, after the Jodie Foster-obsessed man who attempted to assassinate President Reagan here in 1981, and though Reagan survived the attempt, his ghost was in the air this morning, as Bennett, Giuliani, and later Mark Levin channeled his spirit in their efforts to woo the right-wing activists in the audience. And while Giuliani was able to warm the crowd up to him, it was Levin, radio host and head of the Landmark Legal Foundation, who cooled them down, saying that “a lot of politicians invoke Ronald Reagan’s name,” but “govern like Nelson Rockefeller,” the moderate Republican presidential candidate who was defeated for the nomination in 1964 by Barry Goldwater and the germinal conservative movement.