This column was written by Matthew Continetti.
On the stump in Iowa last week, Mitt Romney tried to portray himself as the conservative in the race for the Republican presidential nomination and the man best able to sink national frontrunner Rudolph Giuliani. Romney attacked the former mayor of New York for running a "sanctuary city" for illegal immigrants. But Giuliani's campaign deftly fired back, shifting the conversation to security — hizzoner's strength.
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, currently enjoys a double-digit lead in Iowa, and the conventional wisdom has it that he won the nationally televised debate in Des Moines on Sunday morning, August 4. He held his own against attacks from Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback and showed himself a top-tier candidate alongside Giuliani and John McCain. Whether or not the conventional wisdom is right, the debate likely won't matter in the long run, as it took place at a time when most Iowans (and most Americans) were in church, and it did not include former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson, who is expected formally to enter the race in September.
After the debate, Giuliani stayed two more days in Iowa, outlining his "Eighth Commitment to the American People": "I will increase adoptions, decrease abortions, and protect the quality of life for our children." Giuliani is pro-choice in a pro-life party, and every time he discusses the Eighth Commitment, he's touching on an issue that divides him from the Republican electorate. It's a bold move, befitting a politician who has never blanched at controversy. The problem here is that his disagreement is with the voters he wants to nominate him for president.
A senior policy adviser to Giuliani gives three reasons the mayor thinks his Eighth Commitment is important. Giuliani "cares about children," says the adviser, and he can point to his record of increasing the number of adoptions in New York City. More important, though, the mayor wants to emphasize common ground with pro-lifers and get practical about steps he can take as president to reduce abortions.
"His staff is making a good faith effort to reach out to pro-lifers," says Michael J. New, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama and author of a widely circulated National Review Online essay on how Giuliani could court pro-lifers. New has also discussed pro-life issues with Giuliani's staff. A focus on adoption is a "little more substantive than 'safe, legal, and rare,'" says New, referring to Bill and Hillary Clinton's abortion mantra. Still, "I'm really not sure that pro-lifers are buying what he has to sell here."
What is Giuliani trying to sell? At a campaign stop in Fort Dodge, Iowa, on August 6, the mayor focused on adoption policy. According to a campaign press release, a President Giuliani would promote an "innovative national effort to communicate the rewards of adoption to potential parents," implement policies designed to "speed up and simplify" adoption procedures, allow states to receive child welfare bloc grants from the federal government, direct the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to "promote organizations uniquely prepared to provide the necessary assistance to women who choose adoption," and make the $10,000 adoption tax credit, set eventually to expire, permanent.
What troubles pro-lifers is Giuliani's reluctance to say that adoption should be pursued over abortion, as opposed to its being one of many options. Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at National Review and author of "The Party of Death," opposes Giuliani on pro-life grounds. "On adoption, what Rudy offers seems perfectly reasonable," Ponnuru writes in an e-mail. "But it has almost nothing to do with abortion."
On August 7, in Davenport and Clinton, Iowa, Giuliani talked up the law enforcement measures he would pursue to jail child predators, shut down the underground methamphetamine market, and combat human trafficking. This is more familiar territory for Giuliani, whose law-and-order, disciplinarian image has taken hold in the public imagination. But these measures also have almost nothing to do with abortion.
The senior adviser to Giuliani is a more forceful advocate of pro-life policies. Giuliani, he said, would oppose attempts to overturn the Mexico City policy, which bans federal funds from going to overseas nongovernmental organizations that perform or promote abortions. Giuliani would veto congressional attempts to repeal the Hyde amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortions. "If the mayor were president," says the adviser, "the policies he would have as president would be essentially as they are today, and the same as any Republican candidate." That's a statement that might win over some pro-life voters — but Giuliani himself has never said this on the record.
He may not have to. A good day for Giuliani is when he stresses the security issues — the war on terror, the Iraq war, border enforcement — that are among his strengths and also top priorities for GOP voters. A day spent on values issues is a day not spent on security — and a day more likely to be spent on the defensive. Fortunately for Giuliani, on August 8 Romney changed the conversation back to security. At a stop in Bettendorf, Iowa, Romney told an audience, "If you look at lists compiled on Web sites of sanctuary cities, New York is at the top of the list when Mayor Giuliani was mayor. . . . He instructed city workers not to provide information to the federal government that would allow them to enforce the law."
The attack seems to have caught the Giuliani campaign off-guard. Soon enough, though, the mayor's communications team went on the offensive, drawing attention to Romney's own evolution on immigration issues. The stage was set for a more forceful statement from Giuliani himself. And this week, Foreign Affairs will publish Giuliani's national security manifesto, "Toward a Realistic Peace."
Romney's attack was "a good wake-up call for us," says another of Giuliani's advisers. The campaign anticipates a barrage of attacks on some of Giuliani's positions, his business associates, and his personal life. If Romney emerges as the sole conservative alternative to Giuliani, there's no doubt that the attack will be well-funded. That's why the mayor continues to minimize his appearances on the stump in favor of private fundraising events. "We do not have the ability to write a check for $100 million," says the outside communications adviser. "And Governor Romney does."
Still, the immigration fight may have been more than a wake-up call. It may have been exactly what Giuliani needed to avoid a perilous confrontation with pro-life activists.
By Matthew Continetti