UPDATE: Ann Coulter, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference: "I was going to talk about the other Democratic candidate John Edwards, but it turns out that you have to go into rehab if you use the word "Faggot."
I'm at CPAC and will be providing periodic updates on the conferences events. Unfortunately there is no wifi within the conference area and I have to post from the lobby. As such, some of the posts contain less background linking than I would normally prefer.
Recent polls have lead to a shift in Conventional Wisdom, with major political analysts leaning towards announcing Rudy Giuliani as the new front-runner for the Republican presidential primary.
Giuliani's speech was mostly about his tenure as mayor and his admiration for Ronald Reagan. Giuliani spent enough time talking about Reagan's legacy and Reagan's vision to fight the spread of communism to make one think that he's running against Michael Dukakis in 1988. The speech meandered from anecdote to anecdote while making few larger points about what his current campaign was about. This style plays into what people know about Giuliani -- America's mayor. A man who loves baseball and dresses in drag, but just for fun. Hey, we all like fun, right?
This was not a red meat speech. The first twenty-minutes didn't deliver any major applause lines and while his jokes got some chuckles, he didn't hit the home run that his raucous entrance produced. The Republican audience liked the idea of Giuliani's Workfare program, though I think I could safely bet that the vast majority of these conference goers have never spoken with someone who receives welfare nor themselves benefited from this social program. Instead it exists as an undefined evil that never actually shows its head in their lives, like the war in Iraq.
Giuliani must have thought that his new-found front-runner status would afford him with a platform to speak about more arcane policy points, at least as far as what conservative voters are concerned about thus far in the election. Privatizing public schools may interest the former mayor of New York City, but I don't see any competing candidates spending fifteen minutes talking about education. The question is, does Giuliani actually have this power? Will he, in the end, have provided a speech that inspires support along lines other than immigration, abortion, and terrorism? If so, then I've both underestimated the Republican base and underestimated the capacity for a major Republican presidential candidate to separate himself from the parameters of debate set forth by the Bush administration and the Republican Party to talk about issues that don't explicitly function on the existential threat of Islamic terrorists.
In the context of presidential speeches offered by candidates talking about their vision for national policy on security, immigration, taxation, and conservative social values, Giuliani's talk about New York's welfare program, public schools, and hotel tax cuts does not sound impressive. This is the sad reality of Giuliani's fame as America's Mayor: he was mayor before 9/11/01 and most of his actions are not going to sound grand next to the work of his competitors. His work was mundane, as is the nature of municipal politics. It wasn't the sort of work that the conservative movement spends a lot of time talking about, even if Giuliani ruled with hardline, authoritarian guiding principles that any Bush follower would be proud of.
Giuliani did eventually get around to talking about terrorism, the issue that has propelled him to the top of the Republican presidential field. Once on topic, he sounded like a dutiful follower of the Bush/Rove playbook, denouncing Democrats for being on the defensive before 9/11 and for previous efforts to treat terrorists like criminals. Giuliani lavished praise on the Patriot Act and electronic surveillance programs that illegally spy on American citizens. Giuliani went so far as to draw parallels between his lawful use of electronic surveillance on the Gambino crime family as a prosecutor and the Bush administration's current unlawful surveillance and data mining of American citizens suspected of no crime whatsoever.
The only place where Giuliani seemed to stray from Bush doctrine was on choice of words used to describe the fight against Islamic terrorists. "Maybe we made a mistake by calling this the war on terror. This is not our war on them. This their war on us. We desire peace - we want to sell you something, we want to do business with you. This war is over when they stop planning to come here and kill us. Until then we have to remain on offense against terrorists."*
Rudy Giuliani only mentioned Iraq once and did so in the context of denouncing the Democrats' efforts to end the war. This has been consistently true of the presidential candidates; Iraq is not an issue that they are talking about here (Sam Brownback mentioned Iraq once).
Giuliani's speech fell flat. It was better suited for an audience of independent, undecided voters, not the heart of the Republican Party's conservative activist base. I don't know why Giuliani thought this kind of salad speech would succeed at the largest gathering of conservatives to date in the campaign. Maybe he just isn't serious about running for president, though that would be shocking for a candidate who is performing so strongly in the polls.
For what it's worth, Giuliani left the hall to significantly softer applause than what he was greeted with at his entrance.
*All quotes included in this post is based on live transcription. I cannot assert they are 100% accurate.