Yay for the demise of Times Select.
Frank Rich's Sunday column in the NY Times asks why Giuliani is doing so well this late in the campaign season. He points out that the conventional wisdom at the beginning of this year was that Rudy would drop in the polls as people learned more about him, but that hasn't happened yet. The last several polls have him leading right next to Freddie Thompson.
So how does a supposedly pro-choice, semi-pro-gay candidate lead in the Republican primary when four years ago GWB won the highest office by worshiping at the Religious Right's altar and getting all of those "moral values" votes? The reasons are many and complex, of course, but part of explanation has to be realizing that the Religious Right's morally bankrupt leaders never had the power that the media told us they did and that the GOP acted like they did.
The idea that the Religious Right groups control America, that the GOP exploited them for votes and the Democrats just needed to get with the program, was around for a while but got a big boost in credibility with those 2004 exit polls saying that the number one issue people voted on was "moral value." Sure, those were the same exit polls that said John Kerry was president and that, if one combined "terrorism" and "Iraq War" as many, many Americans do, showed that those security issues towered over moral values, but the sound bite was so easy, the data so widely publicized before any cool interpretation of the numbers was possible, that the narrative that the Religious Right ran the government, controlled the GOP, and owned evangelicals became, in a word, dogma.
And then the 2006 Democratic wins were written off as the mixed result of Hurricane Katrina, growing frustration with the war against Iraq, and Mark Foley' wandering hands (on the keyboard, silly!). It still bucked the narrative, but at least it accounted for the wins.
But 2006 should have been taken as the first sign that the main leaders of the Religious Right don't control the people that they say they do. Rich points to the spectacle that was the Value Voters Summit, where Giuliani ended up near the bottom of their straw poll while Huckabee and Romney were first and second, and where the options on their issues-Christians-think-are-important poll excluded the issues Christians actually think are important, like the Iraq War and health care.
Their main goal has first and always been to keep themselves in power and to fill their coffers. A Rudy run would show that they don't have the access and power in the GOP that they have been saying they have all this time, so they have to oppose it. The top issues poll, though, just shows that they're clueless as to how to maintain that power. When Tony Perkins pronounced abortion, gay rights, tax cuts, and super-duper tax cuts to be the top four issues people at the Summit cared about, he also announced that the Summit's attendees spoke only for themselves.
They're fighting for their livelihoods this coming election, and their fight is an uphill battle. Rudy got less than 2% of the vote in their straw poll, but in the CBS poll of evangelicals Steve posted on earlier, he got 26% of them to say they favored him in the GOP primary. That's a huge difference, and it shows that the main people they have to convince that their bread-and-butter issues of abortion and gays are number one isn't the left, isn't the mainstream, isn't even the Republican Party, but evangelicals themselves.
A 26% figure doesn't happen overnight. And we can't say that evangelicals just don't know about his positions on social issues anymore. They care about other issues, they've always cared about other issues, and now their self-professed leaders are searching for what to do if a Rudy win shows that these little emperors were never wearing any clothes. (Although the reason he's leading is still debatable - he's not offering anything new on Iraq nor is he running on any health care reform.)
I'm not going to go as far as Frank Rich and say that they're dead as a political movement - they've always represented a small constituency and will continue to be an important part of the GOP at least in the foreseeable future, and their power might be enough to get Thompson or Romney the nomination instead of Rudy. And Rudy's not seriously pro-gay or seriously pro-choice. He against same-sex marriage, thinks that even civil unions go too far, and always answers that his position on choice is that a woman should have a right but he's going to appoint "strict constructionist" judges - code for anti-choice. And he's not going to campaign on choice and gay rights. But the fact that the media still see him as the pro-choice, pro-gay candidate and that he's still doing well in South Carolina show that the sanctimonious leaders of the Religious Right just don't have the power that the media ascribe to them.
And that's really the lesson here: politicians, both Republican and Democratic, can win on substantive issues. Even the "moral values" voters want to hear about them.