Front-runner Rudy Giuliani increasingly claims the mantle of invincibility -- issues, schmissues, he's the only guy who can beat Hillary.
Judging from my recent cocktail party conversations, it's having an impact. But these same conversations reveal how much wishful thinking goes into the myth of Rudy the Invincible.
"I can't believe the American people will vote for that woman and her husband, a philanderer," one wealthy businessman told me.
"Who are you supporting?" I innocently inquired.
"Rudy," he said.
Can you spell "cognitive dissonance"?
Sean Hannity spends hours every afternoon criticizing those in the GOP coalition (such as Dr. James Dobson) who won't vote for Rudy; sure Giuliani may be wrong on gay marriage and abortion, but he'll be much better than Hillary because he'll appoint "strict constructionist" Supreme Court justices, right?
More self-delusion. Bucking the tide by appointing judges with sufficient intellectual integrity to overturn Roe v. Wade is very hard. Ronald Reagan wanted to do it, and he got it right only once. Even President Bush put appointing his good friend Harriet Miers ahead of appointing a Sam Alito. Only when the base went ballistic did Bush back down, and only because he really is a conservative who cares about what conservatives think.
Rudy? Here's a safe bet: He will appoint a loyalist crony to the bench. When the base erupts, he'll tell the base where it can stick its objections. That's Rudy.
When he's on your side, you admire how fearlessly he will defend your views. When he's not on your side, he ruthlessly steamrolls over you. And on abortion? Don't kid yourself: Rudy is not on our side.
And the Supreme Court is not the only issue of concern to social conservatives. What will Rudy do if and when a resurgent Democrat majority tries to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortion? Or for that matter overturns the federal definition of marriage in the Defense of Marriage Act? Will Rudy spend his political capital on vetoing either of these? He's made us no promises. Instead, he's counting on widespread self-delusion and cognitive dissonance to carry enough social conservatives to win the nomination.
My question is: What is he counting on afterward? Because, frankly, Rudy's electoral prospects don't look that good.
The once-powerful Reagan coalition had three legs -- strong on defense, less government and social conservatism. But the war in Iraq is not the same as the war on communism. It's very unpopular, and Rudy has become as identified with this unpopular war as John McCain. Meanwhile, he has abandoned social conservatism. What's left of the Reagan coalition for Rudy to run on? Naked fiscal conservatism? Conservatives are deluding themselves if they think fiscal conservatism by itself is a winning political coalition. Do they not remember the party of Gerald Ford? It was very fiscally conservative, socially moderate, and a permanent minority party.
The halo of "America's Mayor" is already slipping. For months, polls showed Rudy Giuliani leading Hillary Clinton in a head-to-head matchup, but by June of this year that lead had begun to evaporate. The latest poll, conducted in late September by ABC News and The Washington Post, shows Hillary Clinton beating Rudy Giuliani by eight points. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney trails Clinton in a head-to-head matchup in the latest Rasmussen poll by only nine points. One point better than Romney does not a convincing argument make for abandoning all principles.
And that's before Christian conservative leaders bolt the party, which has abandoned them on abortion, to run a third-party candidate.
A little political realism, please. If you think a candidate who breaks up the Republican Party is the best man to lead the nation, vote for Rudy. But don't imagine, it's going to be easy to elect him.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.