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THE GURUS | BILL SIMON

Giuliani's Policy Professor

(By Reed Saxon -- Associated Press)

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By Benjamin Wallace-Wells
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, October 26, 2007

Late in March, Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was not at the time known as a zealous supply-sider, held a news conference in Midtown Manhattan to announce that the conservative activist and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes would become his campaign co-chairman.

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In the happy bluster of the event (Forbes declared that a Giuliani administration would launch "an assault" on the federal tax code), the former New York mayor was asked whether he would endorse Forbes's signature policy, the flat tax. A decade earlier, when Forbes made the flat tax part of the policy discussion, Giuliani dismissed it out of hand. Now, Giuliani was amenable. "The flat tax," he said, "would make a lot of sense."

It seemed a surprisingly ideological declaration for a candidate who had been billed as the pragmatist and the moderate in the 2008 Republican presidential field. For conservatives who believe in the policy, it split the difference between a thrilling moment and a puzzling one. "I've got to tell you, I don't think he understands what the Steve Forbes flat tax proposal is," said Alan Viard, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

That Forbes and the Giuliani campaign had ever gotten together was largely the work of one man -- a longtime conservative insider and friend of Giuliani's who was once a Republican candidate for governor of California -- Bill Simon. Simon, the Giuliani campaign's policy director, had arranged a lunch at which Giuliani made the case to Forbes that he was the right kind of Republican. "What came through with both Bill and the mayor was that they really got it on the economy and on taxes," Forbes said.

Starting last fall, when Giuliani first called Simon and said he was running for president, Simon, 56, has been more responsible than anyone for Giuliani's policy education, and he has been the agent charged with managing the sometimes eager, sometimes awkward relationship between the former mayor of a liberal city and the conservative establishment.

Well before Giuliani said publicly that he would be a candidate, Simon put him through a rolling seminar that those in the campaign called Simon University, bringing in thinkers to brief Giuliani on key issues. The result is that though many of Giuliani's campaign operatives worked with him when he was mayor, his policy staffers, who have largely been assembled by Simon, come mostly from the think-tank world.

The roster of the seminars was a who's who of conservative intellectuals, and their ideas a menu of conservative thought. There were neoconservatives Norman Podhoretz, John R. Bolton and R. James Woolsey Jr. on foreign policy, as well as less ideological thinkers such as Gen. Anthony C. Zinni and Yale professor Charles Hill; the Hoover Institution's Michael Boskin on taxes and economic policy; Hoover's race scholars Shelby Steele and Thomas Sowell; and retired Gen. Jack Keane and the military scholar Frederick W. Kagan, the authors of the Iraq "surge."

"Simon is an incredible asset for the Giuliani campaign," said Grover Norquist, a conservative anti-tax activist. "He has the added advantage for Giuliani of being a serious social conservative and a pro-lifer, which gives people some assurance that social conservatives and judges will not be ignored."

Though Giuliani's natural inclination has been to talk primarily about national security and his experiences managing the city government in New York, Simon has helped coach him to express himself more prominently on positions that might resonate with the Republican Right: his conservative-leaning disposition on tax and economic policy, and his strict-constructionist views on judges.

Giuliani's senior policy advisers tend to favor some of the least popular elements of Bush administration policy. His most visible foreign policy adviser, Podhoretz, supports an armed intervention in Iran and a lengthy stay in Iraq. Giuliani's lead economic adviser, Boskin, was a prominent proponent of privatizing Social Security and remains convinced of the long-term necessity of private accounts. And Forbes, his campaign co-chairman, believes the Bush tax cuts did not go far enough in cutting marginal tax rates for the wealthy.

This has left Simon managing two ambitious, politically essential projects at once: helping to demonstrate that Giuliani is a conservative, and trying, through Giuliani, to ensure that his corner of the conservative movement is still powerful enough to pick the Republican nominee.

Deep Roots in Conservatism

It is a tradition that Simon has a stake in defending. His father, William E. Simon Sr., was a wealthy Wall Street bond trader who became secretary of the Treasury under President Richard M. Nixon and, later, a legendary architect of the modern conservative movement. But he was also legendarily mean, "a mean, nasty, tough bond trader who took no BS from anyone," in the words of his old friend Ed Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation. Simon would awaken his children on weekend mornings by dousing their heads with buckets of cold water.


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