Jerry Falwell highlighted Rudy Giuliani's dilemma in an email to supporters today: Giuliani's only chance of becoming the GOP nominee is by allowing himself to be publicly held hostage to the religious right. He's probably already lost some centrist support by reversing himself on core social issues, but if he expected gratitude he'll be disappointed. In fact, Falwell wasted no time before turning up the heat.
The canny ex-DA's been checkmated by the preacher from Lynchburg.
The New York Sun covered Giuliani's reversal on the topic of civil unions yesterday, calling it "a startling departure from his previously stated position." But this change does more than just leave him open to the charge of compromising his convictions for political expediency. It also gives the extreme right extraordinary leverage over his candidacy. Having burned his bridges to moderates, he now has to do whatever it takes to placate religious conservatives.
Falwell immediately used his email list to remind his supporters of Giuliani's past positions on abortion as well as civil unions. Falwell writes of the former New York mayor, "he is the candidate we wish we could love." (emphasis mine)
The politician/preacher goes on to take predictable swipes at Hollywood and "liberal judges" before re-emphasizing the need to take control of the judiciary. He concludes: "So while Mr. Giuliani's abrupt rebuke of the New Hampshire Senate's bill is welcomed, we are still hopeful for more encouraging evidence of his commitment to social conservatism."
Here's where it now stands: Giuliani has already exposed himself to the charge of political expediency, which a Democratic opponent would be foolish not to use against him. So he's already paid the price. The mayor has foreclosed the option of running to the left of the party (which, in fairness to him, probably would have ensured his defeat in the primaries.)
Falwell is telling him "that's not enough - you haven't proven yourself to us." In effect, the Religious Right is telling Giuliani via Falwell that he is now completely dependent on their largesse and support. Having received two major concessions, their response is that they expect many more.
You've seen it a dozen times in the movies. It's the blackmail scenario, where the first payment only encourages bigger and bigger demands. Giuliani's in a tough position, and he doesn't have many options.
How should Democrats respond? By hitting Giuliani on these reversals every chance they get. Will they do it? I don't know. The Democratic candidates had a perfect opportunity to go on the offensive against Giuliani over terrorism in last night's debate, since he has vulnerabilities on the issue. None of them did*.
As for Giuliani - unfortunately, there's not too much he can do. He could try running against the religious activists, but that backfired against McCain in 2000. So the mayor's running out of options. Right now the Reverend is calling the shots.
*UPDATE: One Democratic politician has issued a frontal challenge to Giuliani on terrorism, covering the period from January to September of 2001. No major figure I know of has addressed the criticisms of Giuliani from the firefighters union and families of some first responders who perished on 9/11. These center on the recommendations made in the wake of the 1993 WTC attack for an improved communication system, which the mayor didn't implement and which they argue might have reduced the loss of life in the second attack.