Nixon Redux?


Matt Continetti, making the case against the Rudy-as-Nixon argument, points out that Rudy's "economic program is pretty much in a separate galaxy from Nixon's" - that the Giuliani neocon-influenced foreign policy is likewise roughly the opposite of the detente-and-realism overseas vision of the Nixon-Kissinger years - and that Rudy is very unlikely to appoint the next Harry Blackmun, what with his Federalist Society legal advisors and his pledge to appoint strict constructionist judges. These are strong points; where Matt's case is weaker, I think, is when he tries to rebut Michael Gerson's suggestion that Giuliani is "a talented man without an ideological compass." Matt writes:

The only evidence for this that Gerson offers is Giuliani's endorsement of Democrat Mario Cuomo over George Pataki in the 1994 New York gubernatorial race. But Giuliani's (wrongheaded) decision had more to do with his longstanding rivalry with Pataki and Pataki's patron, former New York senator Alfonse D'Amato, than ideology.

Hmmm. I would say that a Republican politician's willingness to endorse a member of the opposition party - and not just any Democrat, but a lion of liberalism - suggests a weaker-than-average ideological compass, at the very least.

But leave that aside. The real evidence for Giuliani's ideological promiscuity lies in the striking difference between today's Rudy and the Rudy who ran New York. The same Rudy who preaches strict-constructionism now had a slightly different judicial philosophy during his years as Mayor. The same Rudy who applauded the Supreme Court's decision in the Wisconsin Right to Life case used to be a proud supporter of McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform. And so on and so forth. Obviously Rudy's not the only flip-flopper in the race, but this doesn't change the fact that his shifting views - or at least his slipperiness - on a wide variety of issues suggest a politician who's closer to Nixon than to Reagan in his commitment to ideological principle. Combine this quality with the visceral, "he's on our side because liberals hate him" identification that many conservatives feel for Giuliani (something that his fellow flip-flopper, Romney, doesn't enjoy), and you get the basis for a not-unreasonable analogy to the Tricky Dick experience.

The best argument for dismissing this analogy as irrelevant, to my mind, is the conservative movement's institutional strength in the present-day GOP (a strength it didn't enjoy in the Nixon era), and the pressure that movement-conservatives can exert on Giuliani to conform to the more right-wing "New Rudy" persona he's slipped in for the '08 race. I don't think Rudy gives a tinker's dam about strict-constructionist judges, for instance, but I do think the Right is in a far better position to hold his feet to the fire and head off Harry Blackmun-style appointments today than it was in the early 1970s. And the same goes for gun control, immigration, and all the rest. If there's a case for ideological conservatives voting for Rudy, it's this: Not that he's less of an opportunist than Nixon, but that opportunism will dictate that he dance with them what brung him.

Of course, for those of us on the right who aren't quite on the same page as this author (and Giuliani foreign-policy adviser), this isn't always a comforting thought.

Update: Reihan has thoughts here.