Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Giuliani will fundamentally change the character of the Republican Party

From First Things:

For reasons quite plausible, even to people on the pro-life side, Rudolph Giuliani persists in standing well ahead of the pack of the Republican candidates for president. He has sounded the traditional Republican themes: preserving the Bush tax cuts, seeking free-market solutions to problems such as medical care, and standing firm on the war in Iraq.

But there is in his campaign a sobering truth that cannot be evaded: The nomination and election of Rudy Giuliani would mark the end of the Republican party as the pro-life party in our politics. And that would be the case regardless of whether pro-lifers respond to his nomination by refusing to vote for Giuliani, forming a third party, or folding themselves into a coalition that succeeds in electing Giuliani.

I often meet, here in the East, conservatives of an old stripe: eager to vote for a Republican but repelled by what they have seen as a party in which the religious and the pro-lifers have a marked leverage. Are there enough of these voters to convert, say, New Jersey and Connecticut into Red States? There might be if the old-line conservatives see a massive defection from the party on the part of the pro-lifers. For that will be a sign that the party is becoming habitable again for people like themselves, who may come to define again its ­character.

What is engaged here is a truth about the nature of political parties that has gone remarkably unappreciated: Parties have the means of changing their own constituencies or their composition. By altering their appeals, they drive some groups out and bring others in. If a Republican party, reconstituted in this way, manages to win, the Republican establishment will readily draw the lesson that they can win convincingly without pro-lifers and their bundle of causes: the destruction of embryos in research, assisted suicide, the resistance to same-sex marriage. Indeed, a Republican party shorn of those people and their baggage may seem to offer a stronger, more durable majority than the party that eked out victories by narrow margins in 2000 and 2004.

Pro-life voters may subordinate their concerns and join the new coalition, but the lesson extracted will be the same: “The Republican party can win when the pro-life issue is thrust from the center to the periphery of the party’s concerns. Even the pro-lifers do not see themselves as one-issue voters; they will give primacy to other concerns as the crises before us make other issues indeed more urgent. They will content themselves with symbolic gestures or modest measures rationed out to them. For they know that, when their interest collides with others, the party will have to subordinate their concerns to nearly anything that seems more pressing.” And, for all practical purposes, nearly any interest will trump the interests of the pro-life community.

[. . .]

For years now, the pro-life movement has followed a strategy of moving in incremental steps, unfolding a plan of principle with, to borrow a phrase from Lincoln, the object being to put abortion “in the course of ultimate extinction.” But a successful candidacy by Giuliani would subtly put in place a scheme whose tendency and object would be to put the pro-life movement itself on the course of ultimate extinction.

It is conceivable, then, that from the standpoint of the pro-lifers it might be better to lose to Hillary Clinton than to win with Rudy Giuliani. The Republican party left standing after the defeat would still be a pro-life party. In the film Ninotchka, Greta Garbo explains to people in Paris the Stalinist purges back home: “We will have fewer but better Russians.” The Republicans might be diminished, but they would be essentially intact as a pro-life party; and, when the electoral winds shift again, they have a chance of coming back with their character intact.

I've been saying this for some time. Perhaps you'll believe it not that someone else has joined me.