Sunday, September 09, 2007

Giuliani's head-cracker image helps him overcome social-issue stands, especially among rural voters

Rudy Giuliani, shown here in Iowa (in photo by Jeff Mermelstein for The New York Times) is the leading Republican presidential candidate. He supports abortion rights, gay rights and gun control, and is on his third marriage, so how is he leading in a party in which the largest voting bloc is social conservatives? As mayor of New York, especially in the post-9/11 spotlight, he gained an image of cracking heads to keep order, and Republicans think he can do that with terrorists and illegal immigrants.

That is especially apparent in Giuliani's appeal to rural voters, as two New York journalists have written in long articles recently. First, in a 16-page piece in The New Yorker titled "Mayberry Man," Peter J. Boyer wrote: "It is also possible that the rest of the country knows all it wishes to know about Giuliani. It was Giuliani who was depicted in the Times as imposing 'the mores of Mayberry' on the city." (Read more)

In the Times Magazine today, Matt Bai explores Giuliani's attitude toward terrorism: "More than any other Republican candidate, with the possible exception of John McCain, Giuliani has rooted his campaign in the grand and foreboding notion that America is now engaged in a civilizational struggle." Bai's 8,232-word piece has repeated references to Giuliani reprising the historic roles of Winston Churchill against the Nazis and Ronald Reagan against Soviet communism, and glimpses of his ability to appeal to voters in rural Iowa:

"It’s hard to imagine the slashing mayor of New York getting on famously with the people of Sloan, Iowa, a one-strip farming town of about 1,000 people. (Motto: 'A Good Place to Grow.') But Rudy out of his element turns out to be a surprisingly deft campaigner. Ever the prosecutor, he retains a talent for explaining complex concepts, flipping his round spectacles on and off his face for emphasis and rubbing his forehead as if deep in thought. He has a penchant for talking to voters as if he were their tough-love therapist, frequently invoking words like 'reality' and 'denial.' Vowing to end illegal immigration during one town-hall meeting in Iowa, Giuliani told the crowd, “Every other country does it, and we can do it.” Then he clutched his heart and spoke softly. 'It’s O.K. to do it.' You could almost hear a collective sigh among the Iowans, who didn’t consider themselves bigots just because they wanted to seal the borders, and who now felt validated by America’s mayor. They lined up for autographs."

But what about social conservatism and its lifeblood, religious faith? "At a family restaurant in Le Mars ('the ice-cream capital of the world'), Giuliani was asked about his religious beliefs. 'I believe in God,' he said haltingly. 'I pray and ask him for help. I pray like a lawyer. I try to make a deal: "Get me out of this jam, and I’ll start going back to church."' Then he wandered off into a discourse that somehow ended up with an assessment of Times Square and how good he feels that there are so many 'functioning theaters' there. It’s not an especially convincing routine, but it may be good enough. Conservatives desperately fear another Clinton presidency and may embrace anyone who seems likely to blunt Hillary’s advantage in moderate swing states. (A button I saw in Iowa proclaimed, 'I’m helping Rudy stop Hillary.') And old assumptions of what an evangelical voter actually wants may no longer be operative. There is a sense among the Christian right, says the Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who isn’t working for any of the candidates, that beating back the global onslaught of radical Islam may be a more pressing religious issue than stomping out liberal judges at home."

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