Monday, October 22, 2007

Christian Right Leaders Risk Political Isolation If They Bolt GOP Over Giuliani

Some Evangelical Leaders Remain Bitterly Opposed to Giuliani's Firm Support for Abortion Rights and Moderate Views on Gay Rights -- And Vow to Back a Third-Party Candidate if Ex-New York Mayor Becomes the Republican Nominee


Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani addresses delegates Saturday at the conservative Family Research Council's "Values Voters Summit" in Washington. While bluntly telling Christian conservatives that he would not back down from his support for abortion rights, he did pledge to use the White House as a bully pulpit to persuade Americans to reduce the number of abortions. This didn't sit well with some Christian Right leaders, however -- some of whom have vowed to back a third-party candidate if Giuliani becomes the GOP's standard-bearer. (Photo: Stephanie Kuykendal/Agence France-Presse)

By Skeeter Sanders

Rudy Giuliani is the undisputed front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, according to the latest national opinion polls. But that could potentially spell major turmoil for the party if the former New York City mayor actually becomes the GOP's standard-bearer next summer.

That's because Giuliani is bitterly opposed by some leaders of the Republicans' core constituency -- Christian conservatives -- because of his steadfast support for abortion rights and for his moderate positions on the emotional "hot-button" issues of gay marriage and illegal immigration.

So deep is their opposition that several Christian Right leaders are openly threatening to bolt the GOP and back a conservative third-party candidate if Giuliani wins the nomination. And that, in turn, is sounding alarm bells among party leaders already fearful of a Democratic victory next year with an increasingly restive electorate fed up with the war in Iraq.

GOP Is Facing Its Worst Electoral Crisis Since Watergate

The potential breakup of the conservative coalition that has held the Republicans together for more than 25 years is the most serious electoral crisis facing the party since 1974, when fallout from the Watergate scandal led to a Democratic landslide in that year's midterm congressional election.

On the other hand, a walkout by Christian Right leaders from the GOP would only serve to permanently marginalize them from the American political mainstream, a prominent conservative leader warns.

The stakes are much higher for the party this time around, with the White House, the Congress and the 50 state legislatures also in play. In addition to voters' weariness with the war in Iraq and with controversies over what critics -- including this blogger -- say is President Bush's abuses of his executive authority, the GOP is also having to battle a growing perception among independent voters that the party has moved too far to the right.

With self-declared Republicans comprising a record-low 27 percent of the electorate nationwide, according to the latest round of opinion surveys, GOP leaders know that they cannot hope to retain control of the White House or take back control of Congress without the support of independent voters -- the majority of whom tend to be moderates, polls show.

And therein lies the GOP's main dilemma: Giuliani is the only candidate in the GOP presidential field who is drawing support from independents -- the chief reason for his current front-runner status in the opinion polls. But his pro-choice stance on abortion is anathema to Christian conservatives, who have long wielded substantial -- if not dominant -- influence in the GOP primaries.

On the other hand, a GOP nominee whose social views are closer to those of the Christian Right, such as former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney or former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, is unlikely to win over independent voters -- already leaning toward the Democrats by a two-to-one margin -- in the general election.

Giuliani Tries to Build Bridges with Christian Conservatives

No Republican presidential candidate appears to be more aware of this dichotomy than Giuliani himself. On Saturday, he confronted it head-on when he addressed delegates of the Family Research Council's Values Voters Summit in Washington.

In an attempt to build bridges with Christian conservatives, Giuliani made it clear that, while he won't back down from his pro-choice position on abortion -- "Isn't it better for me to tell you what I believe rather than change my positions to fit the prevailing wind?" he asked -- he would nonetheless use the White House as a bully pulpit to persuade Americans to reduce the number of abortions.

The former New York mayor pledged that if elected, he would appoint conservative judges, support school choice and insist on victory in Iraq.

But while Giuliani was politely received, the delegates to the FRC confab gave a far warmer welcome to Huckabee, who called for a constitutional amendment banning same-gender marriage and denouncing what he called "the holocaust of liberalized abortion."

In a straw poll of conservative Christian "values voters" conducted by the FRC, Romney came out on top, with 1.595 votes, followed closely by Huckabee, with 1,565. Giuliani came in eighth place -- near the bottom of the field.

Meanwhile, another favorite of Christian conservatives, Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), dropped out of the race last week, citing problems in raising money for his campaign against his better-financed rivals.

Some Christian Rightists Displeased With Giuliani's Personal Life...

Giuliani made a rare public acknowledgement of the recent crises in his personal life, including his extramarital affair with Donna Hanover in 1982 which led to his divorce from his first wife, Regina Peruggi.

He married Hanover two years later, only to see his second marriage end in divorce in 2000 following the highly publicized disclosure of his extramarital affair with Judith Nathan, whom he married three years later.

The scandal over Giuliani's second divorce -- combined with a diagnosis of prostate cancer -- forced him to withdraw his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat that was being vacated by the retiring Daniel Patrick Moynihan, which was eventually won by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Also raising the suspicions of Christian conservatives was Giuliani's 1997 appearance at a charity fundraising event in drag -- which was captured on the front page of the New York Daily News under the headline, "WOTTA DRAG! New York, This is Mayor Giuliani as You've Never Seen Him Before!" -- and his temporary lodging in the apartment of an openly gay personal friend in 2000 after moving out of Gracie Mansion, the official mayoral residence, in the midst of his divorce from Hanover.

...Yet Giuliani Is Out-Fundraising His GOP Rivals Even in the Bible Belt

But despite his low standing among Christian Right leaders, there's no denying the former mayor's fundraising prowess -- even in the heart of the Bible Belt. Giuliani has raised more money than any other Republican across the conservative South, including Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina, according to an analysis of fundraising records by the Daily News.

Despite his pro-choice position on abortion, Giuliani has out-fundraised his Republican competitors even in the Bible Belt "buckle" states of Oklahoma, West Virginia, Florida and President Bush's home state of Texas.

Although FRC president Tony Perkins said that Giuliani helped himself "simply by showing up" at his organization's summit, other Christian Right leaders were not impressed -- with Dr. James Dobson, head of the conservative group Focus on the Family, vowing to back a third-party candidate if the former New York mayor is the GOP nominee.

Late last month, in fact, a group of Christian conservatives met in Salt Lake City and agreed to back a minor-party candidate -- possibly the Right to Life Party's nominee -- if Giuliani wins the GOP nod and if, as expected, the Democrats nominate Clinton. There was some talk at the confab of launching a new, conservative Christian party, but the attendees failed to come to an agreement on that.

Gary Bauer, a former FRC leader and a domestic policy adviser in the 1980s to then-President Ronald Reagan, warned Saturday that starting a Christian conservative party from scratch would be an act of "political suicide" -- permanently marginalizing Christian conservatives to the outer fringes of the American political spectrum.

Even Dobson conceded that point, yet he nonetheless insisted that he would back a third-party candidate if the GOP nominates a pro-choice standard-bearer like Giuliani.

Polls Show Iraq War Trumps Abortion, Gay Marriage As Top Issues With Voters

Even if Christian conservative leaders made good on their threat to walk out on the GOP and back a third-party candidate, abortion and gay marriage are not considered by most voters -- even rank-and-file Christian conservatives -- to be their top issues, according to opinion surveys.

While most Republicans and Republican-leaning independents oppose abortion rights, only 43 percent of Republicans consider it paramount to their vote, according to a Pew Research Center poll, and only 23 percent of Republicans said that there was "no way" that they would vote for Giuliani because of his pro-choice stand on abortion, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll.

On the contrary, the polls show that the voters' overriding issues remain the war in Iraq and national security -- issues that play to Giuliani's strength among GOP voters the most. "Under normal circumstances a pro-choice candidate. . . cannot win the Republican nomination. But these are unique circumstances," Republican consultant Dan Schnur told Reuters.

Schnur, who hasn't committed himself to any candidate, said Giuliani's record and national profile as New York's mayor -- particularly his reputation for leadership in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in his city -- have given Giuliani a rare opening in a traditionally conservative party.

"The nature of his credentials and the nature of his competition gives him an opportunity that otherwise wouldn't exist," Schnur said. "But it's still a huge uphill climb."

For his part, Giuliani pleaded with Christian conservatives to "look at the big picture" as Republicans seek the candidate with the best chance to keep the White House in GOP hands. "There [will] always [be] some differences [between himself and Christian conservatives], but I ask you to look at the whole candidate and the whole picture of what we face in 2008," he said.

In any case, with registered Republicans forming a shrinking minority of the total electorate -- their 27 percent figure representing a sharp decline from their 33 percent registration just a year ago -- the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis next September could become an ugly affair, no matter what happens with Giuliani.

If the deeply unpopular Iraq war is still raging by the time Republicans gather in the Twin Cities, it won't matter who wins the Republican nomination. Unless, by some miracle, anti-war Representative Ron Paul of Texas wins it (And this blogger is no fan of Ron Paul by any means), whoever becomes the GOP's standard-bearer will find himself in a no-win situation -- saddled with defending a war that a solid 70 percent of Americans overall oppose.

If these Christian Right leaders make good on their threat to bolt the GOP is Giuliani wins the party's nomination, then this blogger says, "good riddance." The party -- and the country -- will be much better off without those holier-than-thou theocrats.

# # #

Volume II, Number 53
Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


Sphere: Related Content