Giuliani, Gays and Values Voters

One thing you can say about Rudy Giuliani: the guy's got moxie. In less than two weeks, Rudy will join the very right-wing leaders who oppose him in addressing the most faithful of the faithful at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. All of the Republican presidential contenders have been invited to address the gathering, which last year brought together more than 1,500 right-wing Christians. Until yesterday, Rudy's RVSP was the only one missing from the top-tier candidates.

He declined -- along with Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and John McCain -- to participate in last month's Values Voter Debate in Florida. But James Dobson's pronouncement on the op-ed pages of The New York Times that he and his fellow religious-right leaders stood poised to walk out of the G.O.P. (and into the arms of a third-party candidate) should a pro-choice candidate (read: Giuliani) win the nomination, all but mandated Giuliani's participation in the Washington confab. To do any less would have made him look like a sissy, a bad choice if you're running as one Muslim-butt-kicking, mean mother of a mayor.

Much has been made of Giuliani's "moderate" social values positions. He's on the record favoring abortion rights and gay rights, and even lived with a gay male couple after the demise of his first marriage. In polling of evangelicals -- only a portion of whom belong whole-heartedly to the religious right -- these positions seem not to do him great harm.

But after the Values Voter Summit, Giuliani could find himself in a bind with both the young evangelicals who dislike anti-gay attitudes, and the electorate as a whole. Last year's Summit proved to be a veritable hate-fest against "homosexuals," one in which queer folk were deemed to be the enemy within, while the terrorists comprised the enemy without. In speech after speech, non-heterosexuals were equated with the killers of innocents -- the very scourge against which Giuliani, dubbed "the nation's mayor" in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks, has staked his identity.

Last year, few in the pundit classes really cared about the Values Voter Summit; it was just the rabid crazies doing their rabid, crazy thing. Few were the comments on how much more vitriolic the Family Research Council's "summit" was than the defunct event it replaced, the Christian Coalition's once-mighty "Road to Victory" conference. But with the presidential contest now in high gear, the ranks of interested media are expected to swell.

Giuliani's campaign advisors apparently made the calculation that their candidate has more to lose by being the only top-tier candidate who didn't show for the "values voters" than he does by associating himself with the hate-mongers who are organizing the conference. Perhaps they recall the somber Bob Dole, who was nearly eclipsed by Pat Buchanan in the 1996 Iowa caucuses after Dole declined to appear at an anti-gay rally in which Buchanan and most of the other G.O.P. contenders took part. (Although Dole won the nomination, he did so wounded by a bitter battle with Buchanan, who won the New Hampshire primary.)

Pundits who point to Rudy's apparent infidelity and lack of good standing in his own Roman Catholic Church as disqualifications for the votes of evangelicals miss the long tradition of forgiveness of sinners who "repent." (And who wouldn't love to see Rudy do that?) But this year's voter, even on the right, seems unimpressed with sudden turnarounds on issues of sexual morality. Just ask Mitt Romney. A suddenly anti-gay Rudy Giuliani just wouldn't wash.

And repudiating any hateful statements made about gays by religious-right leaders would further infuriate Dobson and his ilk, who, despite their threat, are far less likely to walk out of the Republican Party than they are to force a religious-right agenda on a mainstream candidate like Giuliani, just as they did with Bob Dole in 1996.

The outcome of the radical-right platform that Dole was saddled with -- and a consequently right-wing, televised national convention -- was a resounding loss for the Republican Party, but a victory for the right.

A calculation had been made that then-President Bill Clinton was virtually unbeatable, as New Right architect Paul Weyrich revealed in the double-super-secret-background speech he delivered before the Council on National Policy (CNP) on the eve of the Republican Convention. In 2008, the right could simultaneously accept Giuliani as the G.O.P. candidate while deliberately wounding him so as to make his election improbable.

In gaining control of the platform and convention agenda by threatening to bolt the party in 1996, the right positioned itself strongly for the next contest. George W. Bush did not have to be led to the religious right; nor did any of the other Republican candidates in 2000. They knew the score; they played ball from the outset.

Right-wing leaders may find themselves considering a similar scenario today. Should Giuliani become the G.O.P. nominee, the religious right will seek to exact its pound of flesh, even if it means that the Democrats (yes, even the other Clinton), win the presidency. The betting could be that whomever wins the White House in 2008, whether Republican or Democrat, stands an excellent chance of being a one-termer, what with the economy on the verge of tanking and the war an intractable mess. Add in one good natural disaster, and the reins of power could prove slippery. Let a liberal woman preside over the mess, perhaps the thinking goes, and you could enjoy a subsequent 16 years of religious-right, male leadership after her four years run out.

On Sunday, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, whose organization grew out of Dobson's empire, began back-pedaling from his own threat to throw in with a third party, telling host Bob Shieffer on the CBS show, "Face the Nation," that it was "more a proclamation of principle than a declaration of intent." Perhaps Perkins' true intent is one he is unlikely to declare.

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