Martin Frost: Pragmatic Candidate Rudy Will Finish Last

Will Rudy Giuliani be the John Kerry of 2008? It’s an intriguing question.

It goes something like this: Democrats in 2004 were told to ignore that Kerry was an Eastern liberal (pro-choice, pro-gay rights) because he was a decorated Vietnam War veteran and, thus, immune from political attacks.

Republicans in 2008 are being told to ignore that Giuliani is an Eastern liberal (pro-choice, pro-gay rights) because he was the hero of Sept. 11 and accordingly tough on fighting terrorism.

There also is a variation on the pro-Giuliani argument being pushed by some of his supporters, such as former New York Rep. Bill Paxon: Rudy really is like Ronald Reagan because he’s a crime fighter.

The argument in favor of Rudy is that social conservatives who disagree with him on abortion and gay rights should be “pragmatic” and support someone for the nomination who has the best chance of winning the general election because of his broad appeal. Democrats, likewise, were told to be “pragmatic” in 2004 and support Kerry.

Interestingly, quite a few Democrats in 2004 bought into this “pragmatic” argument and Kerry won the nomination. He, of course, did not win the general election.

Social conservatives are not known for their “pragmatism,” so the argument inside the Republican Party likely is to be a harder one for Rudy. Some social conservatives like James Dobson have already said they will not support Rudy in the fall if he is the nominee because of his views on abortion.

The “be pragmatic, vote Rudy” argument starts to fall apart if another Republican who is pro-life and has broad general appeal, such as Fred Thompson or even one who is recently pro-life like Mitt Romney, really catches on and is a serious threat to Rudy.

Then social conservatives can have their cake and eat it, too. They can support a pro-life candidate who arguably has a chance to win in the fall.

The Paxon “Rudy as Reagan” argument has a great deal of trouble getting off the ground. After all, Ronald Reagan was not pro-choice and was not pro-gay rights like Rudy is. Also, I don’t recall ever seeing a picture of Ronald Reagan in a dress.

Mitt Romney recently joked that during the months ahead we will see more pictures of Rudy in a dress than we will see of Hillary Clinton in a dress.

There is one other factor that cuts against Rudy in Republican primaries. Some states have “open primaries” where anyone can vote in the Republican Primary (Democrats and Independents) simply by asking for a Republican ballot.

There is no party registration as a prerequisite for voting in the primary. In these states, pro-choice women who are Independents and even Democrats could vote in the Republican Primary in favor of Rudy; however, Rudy can’t count on a sizeable crossover vote because there is an active contest on the Democratic side and these pro-choice women will want to vote in the Democratic Primary in their states.

That leaves Rudy relying on social conservatives who make up a very large percent of the vote in Republican primaries. Can he convince them to vote against their own self-interest and support a candidate who is on the other side on major social issues?

He and his supporters will give it a try. I wouldn’t bet the rent money on their ability to succeed. After all, social conservatives saw what ultimately happened to the pragmatic choice in 2004.

Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a partner at the law firm of Polsinelli, Shalton, Flanigan and Suelthaus. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.

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