Rudy's cover on the abortion issue has been his promise to appoint strict constructionists to the Supreme Court, like Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, a crucial commitment that would be a huge factor in 2008. For the court is on a knife's edge, and the replacement of the octogenarian John Paul Stevens with a Scalia type could mean the end of Roe v. Wade.
But Rudy's commitment, welcome as it is, raises a question. What does Rudy Giuliani really believe?
If Rudy is honestly pro-choice, how can he name justices certain to overturn Roe v. Wade, thereby restricting choice to millions of women? And if he intends to nominate justices like Roberts and Scalia, why would any pro-choicers vote for him?
Rudy's pro-choice, pro-Scalia stance seems intellectually incoherent and politically inexplicable. He loses part of the pro-life vote and all the pro-choice vote? This is smart politics?
Moreover, simply because Rudy declares himself pro-choice does not mean the issue goes away. Rudy's opponents will bring it up again and again in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The press will go straight to the contradiction between supporting "a woman's right to choose" and supporting justices who would abolish a woman's right to choose.
And, now, His Holiness has weighed in. Angered over a vote by Mexico to permit first-trimester abortions, Benedict XVI said on his flight to Brazil that the Catholic legislators who had voted to legalize abortion had excommunicated themselves and should be denied Holy Communion.
This suggests the Vatican will not be silent on Rudy's bid to become the first Catholic Republican president. Nor will Cardinal Edward Egan of New York or Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington -- if the latter has any interest in a cardinal's hat.
With the national press trailing candidate Rudy to church every Sunday, quizzing the parish priest and local bishop as to whether Rudy will be denied communion, this should bring the religious issue back to presidential politics as it has not been since 1928, when Democrats nominated another New York Catholic named Al Smith.
Somewhere, Mitt Romney is smiling.