Can a centrist candidate survive the Republican primaries? Can common sense overcome fundamentalist doctrine? Does the fundamentalist right have a death grip on the Republican Party or can the country club moderates revive their party?
Rudy Giuliani, currently the Republican front-runner, has decided to put these questions to the test. After bumbling badly in the Republican debate while trying to pander on the question of abortion, Giuliani decided to just tell it like it is.
In a speech at the Houston Baptist College, he announced that while he thought abortion immoral, he believed in women's right to choose. He essentially embraced the Clinton position of wanting abortion to be "safe, legal and rare."
While Giuliani's moderate positions are where most Americans are, they are anathema to the fundamentalist right. As the paleo-male lineup of Republican candidates indicated in their debate at the Reagan library, the right doesn't take prisoners. They believe abortion is murder. They believe that doing research on stem cells that would otherwise be discarded is murder. They don't even make exceptions for the life of the mother. They want doctors to be prosecuted. They want abstinence taught, not safe sex. Many think contraception is a sin. Giuliani is asking them to vote for him to fight terrorism, despite advocating what they consider to be mass murder.
And Giuliani is just getting started. As mayor of New York, he supported gun control. He doesn't think that the answer to the worst slaughter in our history at Virginia Tech is, as Texas Gov. Rick Perry was quick to advocate, licensing everyone to pack a concealed weapon.
And we haven't even gotten to Giuliani's true views on equal rights for gays.
While Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney's views weren't far from Giuliani's common sense. But Romney counted the votes in the Republican primaries and was born again. He suddenly realized that he was opposed to choice, opposed to stem cell research, opposed to gun control as a "lifetime" hunter.
Will kissing the rings help? Hard to tell. Much of the fundamentalist right doesn't consider Romney, a Mormon, to be a Christian. Sen. John McCain has shamelessly pandered to Jerry Falwell and what he called the "agents of intolerance," after they helped beat him in the 2004 Republican primaries.
Giuliani clearly believes that Republican moderates – the corporate money and the country club suburbanites – will rally to him. But are there enough of them left in Republican primaries to matter? This is increasingly the party of Pat Robertson and James Dobson, of Focus on Family, not the party of Lincoln or even of Eisenhower.
So worried Republicans are searching for a new Reagan. Someone who can cater to the Neanderthal views of their base, but with a wink and a nod, reassure moderates and independents that he (no female or minority candidates need apply) doesn't mean it — a good actor who can stay on his lines. No wonder Fred Thompson, the senator turned actor, is rising in the polls before he even announces.
Jesse Jackson Sr. is a longtime civil rights activist and founder/director of the RainbowPUSH coalition.