Robert Novak

There is certainly not much in Giuliani's background to attract religious conservatives. After he changed from being a George McGovern Democrat in 1972, his successful 1993 campaign for mayor opposed term limits, school choice and an end to rent controls. As the Republican mayor, he backed Democrat Mario Cuomo's losing fourth-term bid for governor of New York. He consistently has been pro-choice on abortion, pro-gay rights (including gay marriage) and pro-gun control. How anybody that liberal can be the apparent choice of the religious right is attributed by Republican pollster Frank Luntz to Giuliani's reputation for fighting terrorism. "He has turned security into a social issue," Luntz told me.

That does not fully explain the strong support for him by practicing Catholics. Giuliani says he was raised as a Catholic but declines to say whether he practices the religion today. When Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis recently said he would refuse Holy Communion to Giuliani because of his position on abortion, the candidate did not dispute the cleric but merely said, "Everybody has a right to their opinion." There is no evidence that Giuliani attends mass apart from funerals and holidays.

Giuliani's opponents tend to blame his otherwise inexplicable support from churchgoers on the veils of ignorance that in time, they say, will be lifted from the eyes of voters. That implies voters are just too stupid to know the truth about him. One Roman Catholic layman who supports another candidate told me he thought Giuliani's strong Catholic backing was mainly the product of his Italian surname. Other skeptics predict that his churchgoing support will fade before a nominee is selected.

But what if the support holds? Veteran conservative leader Gary Bauer of the Campaign for Working Families does not want to follow James Dobson's rejectionist course, which could pave Hillary Clinton's path to the Oval Office. "If he [Giuliani] is nominated," Bauer told me, "the leaders of the values voters movement need to sit down and do everything possible to avoid a split that would guarantee a disaster for social, economic and foreign policy conservatism. It would require some serious discussions."

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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