When Rudy Giuliani spoke to the National Rifle Association last week, there was no way he could say anything remotely pleasing to the audience and remain consistent to his record. The former New York City mayor was one of the NRA's biggest targets in the 1990s, and for good reason: His positions were largely indistinguishable from the Clinton administration's, from which he received lavish praise for helping the feds impose an assault-weapons ban, among other NRA no-nos.
So Giuliani went the way of many of his rivals by ditching his principles to appease the crowd. First, though, he tried a little comedy - very little. He answered a call on his cellphone from his wife in the middle of his speech, a stunt about as well received as Flounder's query of the poker players in "Animal House": "You guys playing cards?"
The rest of his speech played better for the simple reason that it was a full-fledged pander. Giuliani explained that his views have "evolved" since he was mayor. In presidential politics, evolution of this sort is usually code for throwing inconvenient baggage off the boat. So, in short order, stevedore Giuliani chucked years of anti-gun rhetoric over the side. The impetus for his newfound respect for the Second Amendment, Giuliani explained, was the "intervening event" of 9/11, giving new salience to the phrase "9/11 changed everything."
While one can hardly fault special-interest lobbies for cheering when presidential candidates kowtow to them, that doesn't mean the rest of us have to. Personally, my views are closer to the NRA's than they are to Giuliani's. But still, I was hoping that Rudy would have stuck to his federalist guns a bit more.
Giuliani has run the best campaign of any candidate in either party so far, despite an unfavorable political climate and the fact he lacks the kind of institutional pull Hillary Clinton has within her party. He has managed to take and hold onto an early lead, even with a record so littered with conservative red flags that it looks like one of those choreographed North Korean rallies.
On immigration, he's dodged nearly every bullet that hit John McCain. In a party allegedly hijacked by theocons and family-values fetishists, the thrice-married, pro-civil-unions former gay pride parade marcher has managed to win the hearts and minds of large numbers of social conservatives.
Obviously, Giuliani could never have pulled this off without 9/11. For the GOP, the war on terror is more than a foreign policy issue, it's a values issue too, like the fight against communism was during the Cold War. Still, if the war on terror were everything, McCain would be the front-runner rather than a fading second-tier candidate.