Will Rudy Transform the GOP?

I like Rudy Giuliani’s straight-talking style. I like much of what he did as mayor of New York, ushering in a new style of policing and refusing to give photo-op glory to demagogues like the Rev. Al Sharpton. And I think he faced the calamity of Sept. 11 with as much grit and determination as any American mayor could have summoned.

We’ve got a year to go until the party conventions, so Rudy  could be a vanishing cipher by then.  But the fact that he’s   doing pretty well in GOP opinion polls, even at this early stage, shows you just what kind of contortions the Republicans will go through in picking a nominee to oppose the all-but-certain Dem candidate, Hillary Clinton.

A profile of Rudy in this week’s New Yorker demonstrates how the deck has been reshuffled, starting with its title: “Mayberry Man: Why the Heartland Likes Rudy Giuliani.” As the article makes clear, on the three big social issues that usually animate loyal Republicans in the primaries, Rudy is so far off the map that you’d need to draw a new map to find him–and yet, so far at least, he’s getting a pretty sympathetic hearing from voters far removed from the Big Apple.

I’m talking, of course, about the Three G’s: God, Guns, and Gays. In brief: Rudy was raised a Catholic, but attends lightly and sees Catholic teachings as just one source of guidance among many. “They have every right to tell me anything they want,” he says of the church. “But then I have every right to believe anything I want.”

 On Guns, he’s not just for gun control, he’s passionately for gun control, making the common-sense point that easy access to guns in Bensonhurst and Flatbush means something very different from easy access to guns in the Montana forests.

And as for Gays, they’re a strong voting bloc in NYC, so it’s no surprise that he has a long history of supporting gay rights, though he favors civil unions and not gay marriage.

Nobody knows at this stage whether Rudy will get the GOP nomination. But he’s getting a friendly hearing so far. If you try to imagine the same scenario among GOP voters in 1988, 1996 or 2000, you see that the party, and the country, is changing.

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