By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
GOP rivals pounced on former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani this week after fumbling explanations of his support for abortion rights again exposed his biggest vulnerability in the quest for the Republican presidential nomination.
Giuliani's rambling and sometimes contradictory responses on abortion during last week's Republican presidential debate in California provided an opening for the other GOP hopefuls, including Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who declared Monday that an abortion rights candidate violates one of the "fundamental principles of a conservative."
That was followed up yesterday by the revival of stories noting that Giuliani had contributed to Planned Parenthood in the 1990s, sparking outrage on conservative blogs and a lengthy, uncomfortable appearance on Laura Ingraham's radio program.
"When you have a cut on your leg and it's bleeding slightly, you don't go into shark-infested waters," noted a top strategist for a rival campaign, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in commenting about another candidate's weaknesses. "On this, in particular, he is way outside the mainstream of the Republican Party."
Said Bay Buchanan, a senior adviser to Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colo.), another presidential hopeful: "What's happening now is it's becoming apparent who Giuliani really is. He exposed himself to be someone who is very much pro-choice but would like to hide the matter."
On Ingraham's show, Giuliani forcefully defended his views on abortion, saying he has long been personally opposed to abortion but supports a woman's right to have one if she chooses.
Under grilling by Ingraham, Giuliani said his financial support for Planned Parenthood -- he gave about $900 in the mid-1990s -- was driven by a desire to increase adoptions in New York City. Planned Parenthood, one of the largest providers of reproductive services, including abortion, also counsels about adoption and parenting.
"My idea of a choice is that it should be a real choice and that ultimately, then, you have to respect a woman's consciousness," Giuliani told Ingraham and listeners on 340 radio stations nationwide. "I think life is enormously important, but so is personal liberty."
Ingraham pressed Giuliani, asking him whether stories about the birth of a 22-week-old baby affected him. Giuliani said they did, calling the debate about abortion "a deeply personal" issue. He stressed that Americans understand the difference between personal beliefs and public policy.
"So why people think this is such a contradiction, I don't get. I think it's entirely consistent," he said.
When Ingraham ended the segment with a standard line about his returning again, a clearly agitated Giuliani responded: "I would love to come back, but you're going to have to ask me about the war on terror and what we do about the economy, which is after all what most citizens ask me about."
"Well, conservatives are citizens, too, Mayor Giuliani!" Ingraham responded. "We're citizens, too."
The exchange captured the challenge for Giuliani: how to win the Republican nomination with a position on abortion at odds with that of many in his party, and with the stance of all nine of his GOP rivals.
Mitt Romney, who embraced a pro-abortion-rights position as governor of Massachusetts, has professed a change of conscience on the issue and now says he opposes abortion. McCain, who has clashed with conservatives on other issues, is hoping that his consistent antiabortion credentials will help him win over party activists.
The lesser-known GOP candidates are even more outspoken on the issue. During the debate, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas declared that the day the Supreme Court overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion would be "a glorious day of human liberty and freedom."
Tancredo issued a news release this week emphasizing his antiabortion credentials. In the statement, he said that "if a Republican President of the United States won't vigorously fight to protect the life of the unborn, how long before the trend toward the culture of death becomes irreversible?"
That leaves Giuliani, who has maintained a lead over McCain in most national polling, as the outlier in the GOP field and an inviting target for the attacks of his rivals and conservative activists.
The conservative blog Redstate featured a posting yesterday with the title "Rudy's Done," citing the decade-old contributions to Planned Parenthood and demanding apologies from the former mayor.
"This is going to force him to become much clearer about his position on Roe v. Wade," the posting declared. "There's nothing short of 'I was wrong' that will cover this. . . . There's a big difference between being ambiguous and giving money to the biggest abortion providers in the nation."
Mike DuHaime, Giuliani's campaign manager, stressed the importance of issues such as the economy, taxes and terrorism. "Most Republican voters are going to judge all these candidates as a whole, not on one issue," he said.
Republican strategists said Giuliani's problems were exacerbated by his debate performance, which highlighted the vulnerabilities in the candidacy of the man known since Sept. 11, 2001, as "America's Mayor." Unable to attack Giuliani on national security, his critics had been waiting for an opening.
In Thursday's debate, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Giuliani responded to a question first by saying that it would be "okay" if Roe v. Wade were overturned. Then he said it would be okay if it were upheld, before winding his way back to a defense of his long-held abortion-rights position.
"He'd really be in better shape if he had just said, 'I'm pro-choice, but you'll like the judges I pick,' " said one adviser to a Republican rival in the presidential race. "Instead, he's trying to mealy-mouth the thing."