In search of the real Rudy

Rudy Giuliani is sending a lot of mixed messages in his campaign for president. As mayor of New York he boldly proclaimed, “There isn’t a mayor or public official in this country that’s more strongly pro-immigrant than I am.” He opened his arms to immigrants, saying, “If you come here and you work hard and you happen to be in an undocumented status you’re one of the people we want in this city.” In a 1996 interview he opined, “We’re never going to be able to control immigration to a country as large as ours.” But as a candidate for president in 2007 he is running radio ads stating, “People that come in illegally — we’ve got to stop. You stop illegal immigration by building a fence — a physical fence and then a technological fence.”

Traveling on the left coast this past week I ran into a lot of people who were troubled by Rudy’s shifting views on immigration. In the mid-1990s, he was a staunch opponent of California’s Proposition 187 and cheered when it was overturned in court. He continued an executive order of Mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat, prohibiting a city employee from reporting the immigration status of anyone who applied for city services. When Congress enacted a provision barring such prohibitions as part of welfare reform legislation in 1996, Giuliani filed suit to overturn that portion of the law, saying “a threat to immigration can be a threat to the future of our country.”

West Coast moderates, who believe immigration to be both important as a social issue and critical to their local economies, wonder just which Rudy Giuliani would take the oath of office were he elected president. Would it be the one with open arms or the one building fences?

The mayor has lots of people wondering just which Giuliani they would get in the White House. He has famously been on at least two sides of gay marriage. Back in 2004 he said, “I’m in favor of … civil unions.” As mayor he signed domestic partnerships into law. As a presidential candidate, “Rudy Giuliani believes marriage is between a man and a woman,” according to official statements. “He does not — and has never — supported gay marriage.” Technically, all those positions are correct. Civil unions, domestic partnerships and gay marriage are all legally different. For most voters, however, it is a distinction without a difference.

Abortion is another issue on which the mayor seems very moveable. Back in 1989 he called for public funding of abortions, saying, “We cannot deny any woman the right to make her own decision about abortion because she lacks resources.” In 1993 as a candidate for mayor he opposed restrictions to Medicaid financing for abortions and opposed the Hyde Amendment. But his campaign told National Review this year that Giuliani favored the Hyde Amendment.

On gun control it’s the same story. As mayor Giuliani said gun manufacturers overproduce firearms and that he and most police officers favor gun control. He claimed gun control reduced crime in his city and said lax laws in the rest of the country were responsible for 90 percent of the guns in New York. Now he is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and has been publicly bonding with the National Rifle Association.

On and on it goes. YouTube is chockablock with clips showing Giuliani on both sides of numerous political fences. Whether it is the flat tax, presidential pardons or campaign finance reform, Rudy goes flip-flop, flip-fop, flip-flop-flip, say his competitors for the Republican nomination. So have all those video clips and all that criticism caused Giuliani problems with voters? Not so much.

Giuliani and former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) are neck and neck in the race for the Republican nomination. The latest Rasmussen poll has Thompson at 26 percent and Giuliani at 22, with McCain and Romney in the low teens. The lead shifts back and forth among the two, but Giuliani is always a contender.

Among Republican voters Thompson is seen as the most conservative and Giuliani the most electable. History suggests that is a good place for the mayor to be. He won office in a Democratic city with moderate views on social issues. Now he’s moved right just enough to compete for the Republican nomination while leaving room to tack back in a general election. Republican voters, who cherished George Bush’s stubborn consistency, seem to be hungry enough for a winner to accept that flexibility. Could it be that mixed messages are actually on-message in 2008?

Goddard is a founding partner of political consultants Goddard Claussen Strategic Advocacy.