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Spring 1997
City Journal Spring 1997.
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President Rudy?
David Brooks
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New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani is one of the most successful Republican officeholders in the country. And after eight years of Bill Clinton's facile charm and political shiftlessness, Americans may be in the mood for a leader who is willing to go into a room and offend everybody in it, who will court confrontation with entrenched interests, who knows his own mind. So, assuming Giuliani wins reelection, why shouldn't Republicans begin to think about him as a potential national figure in 2000, either as a significant party player, a vice-presidential pick, or even a primary contender?

In Washington I occasionally find myself involved in a little why-not-Rudy parlor game with Republican strategists—not all of them ex-Gothamites. Could a politician from New York, who endorsed Cuomo over Pataki and who is pro-choice on abortion, realistically play any sort of role in the national GOP? Obviously, the party is not about to crown him king right now. He is just too hot on the abortion issue not to raise some conservative hackles. As one prominent Republican put it to me, "Okay, he's pro-choice. But does he have to be so pro-choice?"

Even so, can you think of another Republican who has a better chance of bridging the divide in the GOP between pro-life and pro-choice partisans, or who could use a law-and-order platform to join Southern social conservatives and Northern free marketeers? Giuliani is pro-choice, but he is also a tough SOB. Pro-lifers detest moderate Republicans not just because they are pro-choice, but because they are snobs and squishes. Giuliani is neither.

Giuliani would also have wide appeal outside the party. He sends off cultural signals that speak to Reagan Democrats everywhere, not only in Queens and Brooklyn. Such voters admire guts, and though they wouldn't always agree with his individualistic social positions, he could win them over on  issues like crime, pornography, foreign policy, and the bureaucracy. If Giuliani could establish a national reputation for courage, even the Cuomo endorsement would fade away as just another bit of evidence that he is his own man. That sort of independence also goes a long way with Perot voters.

None of this is to say that Giuliani would necessarily be a good president. He would have to improve his handling of the press (he hits reporters so hard with spin that the only way for them to keep their self-respect is to be hostile). And it's hard to see him handling a cabinet full of independent-minded secretaries. Still, an ambitious, dynamic guy like Giuliani could play a national role. If you think that's far-fetched, compare him to the current Republican leadership in Washington. In the land of the timid, even a pro-choice man can be king.

 

 


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