But Giuliani's stellar performance after 9/11 has erased this story from the public memory banks. That's a problem, because for Giuliani to have any chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination, he'll need to remind conservatives - the people who vote in GOP primaries - that he's more than just the feel-good mayor everyone suddenly loved after 9/11. So he not only needs to convince conservatives that he made all the right enemies, he also needs to explain how his actions as mayor were consistent with conservative philosophy.
I think - and polls corroborate - that the conservative movement is more open to this pitch than either some of its self-interested leaders or those who report on them claim. First, observers make a grave mistake when they discount how seriously the religious right takes the war on terror. Whoever would be the most plausible war president will have a good shot at the nomination. Moreover, conservatives love to talk about philosophy in the same way liberal activists love to talk about action. And contrary to their caricature in the mainstream press, social conservatives are often quite open to libertarian and small-government arguments.
But such arguments need to be made in the context of what Vice President George H.W. Bush once derisively called "the vision thing." Giuliani needs to articulate a Fortuynish vision for the American context. This might mean a zero-tolerance attitude on terror, a crackdown on crime (including corporate graft), and explaining how his mayoralty actually had socially conservative effects by liberating New York from the stranglehold of the identity-politics left.
Giuliani needs to tell a story of how he beat Al Sharpton at every turn. Giuliani's cheery immigrant tale and his personal liberalism make him a formidable spokesman for such a vision. Yes, taken piecemeal, his views on social issues could be a real albatross (though it's worth noting that Giuliani, while personally pro-choice, signals that he would appoint judges in the mold of Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas). But if Giuliani can make those issues seem secondary to a broader defense of American civilization, he's got a chance to go all the way.