In his latest column, Michael Gerson compares Rudy Giuliani to Richard Nixon. The comparison is interesting, but are there really similarities between the two that should worry conservatives?
Gerson thinks so. For one thing, Giuliani is, and Nixon was, a social conservative in the secular “cultural warrrior” sense, but not in the religious, pro-life sense. But this matter is well-known, and throwing Nixon’s name into the mix doesn’t shed new light.
The more interesting alleged similarity is that both Nixon and Guiliani represent for Gerson that familiar phenomenon, the “talented man without an ideological compass.” This probably is a pretty good description of Nixon, but I don’t think Gerson makes much of a case for applying it to Rudy.
For one thing, although Gerson may not appreciate it, Giuliani’s positions on social issues have been largely consistent. He has not significantly trimmed his major positions in order to ease the transition from local candidate to aspiring leader of the national Republican party. A talented opportunist might have done so.
Similarly, Giuliani’s positions on economic issues seem both constant and conservative. That’s the view of the Club for Growth, which is quite attentive to these matters. I wouldn’t expect Rudy to impose whatever the modern counterpart of Nixon’s wage and price controls is. Rather, I’d expect mostly Reaganite policies, perhaps to a greater degree than we’ve seen from President Bush.
Rudy is also a consistent hardliner on foreign policy and terrorism issues. Frankly, I have been a bit surprised by the extent to which he has embraced what loosely might be called neo-conservative thinking on these matters, not because I think Giuliani finds this thinking objectionable, but because it opens him up to easy attack in the general election. A talented opportunist might have hedged a bit more.
Finally, when it comes to Supreme Court nominations, Gerson gives Nixon something of a bad rap. Nixon didn’t appoint Harry Blackmun due to opportunism. All indications are that Nixon wanted to appoint a “conservative,” as that term was understood in the context of the day. The problem was that Republicans — including Presidents Ford, Reagan, and the first Bush — just weren’t consistently good at doing this.
Now that they have finally figured it out, there’s no reason to assume that Giuliani will repeat past failures.
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