Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani went into the Republican presidential debate at the Reagan Presidential Library as the distinctly different candidate.
He emerged even more so.
For those who think supporting the reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision is essential to winning the Republican nomination, Giuliani had a matter-of-fact, take-it-or-leave it answer: That’s not me, so deal with it.
“Will the day that Roe v. Wade is repealed be a good day for America?” asked moderator Chris Matthews of all 10 contenders.
All except Giuliani answered in the affirmative.
Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas said, “It would be a glorious day of human liberty and freedom.”
“It’d be OK,” said Giuliani, conveying a kind of nonchalance about what some Republican conservatives see as a defining moral issue of the age.
“It would be OK to repeal it. It would be OK also if a strict constructionist judge viewed it as precedent, and I think a judge has to make that decision…. The court has to make that decision, and then the country can deal with it,” Giuliani said. “We’re a federalist system of government, and states can make their own decisions.”
Giuliani's 'Issue of conscience"
Pressed further on his views, Giuliani said he hated abortion and supported the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding of abortion under the Medicaid program.
Each state should decide whether it wants to pay for abortions for low-income women, he argued. He added that he had supported taxpayer funding of abortion in New York, but “in other places people can come to a different decision.”
Later Giuliani went so far as to use the language of the abortion rights movement: “Ultimately, since it is an issue of conscience, I would respect a woman’s right to make a different choice.… You have to respect a woman’s right to make that choice differently than my conscience.”
Giuliani’s calculation seems to be that, post-Sept. 11, a libertarian stance on abortion may not be the liability it was before in seeking the GOP nomination. It’s a big gamble, but one that, on stage Thursday at least, he seemed to be quite serene in making.
“I felt sorry for Mayor Giuliani; I think he was trying to articulate two different positions on abortion,” said former Minnesota congressman Vin Weber, a Mitt Romney ally who was working the press in the spin room for the former Massachusetts governor. “My guess is that he has generated more questions about his position on abortion than he has supplied answers.”
The Romney forces emphasized in the post-debate spin room that their man had met the threshold test of appearing presidential.
And Romney did seem to come up with the smoothest, most seamless extemporaneous answers of the 10 rivals for the nomination.
Confronted with an out-of-left-field question about what he disliked most about America, Romney answered, “Gosh, I love America. I’m afraid I’m going to be at a loss for words….” But of course he wasn’t, and he went on to give a paean to America’s natural and spiritual beauties.
Romney’s reply was worthy of Reagan himself as he and the other contenders tried to summon up the spirit of the former president.
“He looked like a president of the United States,” said Weber. “He was comfortable and familiar and in command of every issue and every question put in front of him…. He looked good, he sounded good.”
Weber said Romney had met the test of introducing himself to those viewers who didn’t know him and coming across as the person a typical American would want to have in his living room for the next four years.
Weber said that while Romney did not explain how he’d extricate America from Iraq, no one else on the stage did. “Everybody basically said we’ve got one commander in chief at a time.” Weber indicated Romney would wait and see how Bush’s surge strategy worked and Romney would “have plenty of time to address any changes candidates need to make.”
The other top-tier candidate, Arizona Sen. John McCain, used his allotted time to give short bites from his standard stump speech. For example, he warned of genocide in Iraq if U.S. soldiers were to withdraw. The Islamic terrorists in Iraq would “follow us home” if the U.S. forces withdrew.
McCain’s spin room surrogates coped with questions about his age and his being the most familiar of the 10-man field.
McCain ally Charlie Black said, “I’ve actually had some people recently ask me, did he have his heart in the race, that he didn’t seem passionate enough. I think he showed tonight that he was, especially on those issues that are top priority to him — the war in Iraq, the war on terror, and federal spending — he showed that passion.”
Another McCain surrogate, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said the most memorable phrase of the 90-minute debate was McCain’s vow that he would “follow bin Laden to the gates of hell” to capture or kill the al-Qaida leader.
“John has been out there, almost literally by himself, standing by the idea that we need to win this war. No matter what the polls said about the surge, he was the biggest advocate of the surge,” Graham said. “John has risked everything to make sure that (Gen.) Petraeus has a chance to turn this around…. He understands the consequences of failure better than anybody on that stage. He has risked everything to try to win a war that we can’t afford to lose.”
The debate and the spin from the McCain team was another reminder that to a large extent, as Iraq goes, so goes McCain’s candidacy.