Former New York mayor Rudy Guilani continues to hold his lead in most polls surveying the race for the Republican nomination. As the radically pro-abortion Guilani closes in on the GOP prize, pro-life voters are left wondering what direction to go in the increasingly likely event of his general election matchup with Hillary Clinton next November. To some voters, it’s a no-win situation that can only be solved by going to a third-party candidate. To other voters, it’s an almost no-win situation that has to be solved by holding one’s nose and voting for Guilani as the only practical option.
In this article, I’m going to attempt to offer an analysis of factors I believe voters should consider if this unhappy circumstance comes to pass in November 2008. The primary issues surround the questions of electability and the president’s power of judicial appointment. With each issue, I’ve attempted to summarize both the pro-Rudy and the pro-third party side of the argument as best I can.
In last month’s issue of 4marks Magazine, Andrew-85878 detailed the obstacles a third-party candidate faces. I’ve worked on such a campaign, and Andrew’s assessment of the dreary landscape facing such candidates is quite right. Fundraising is virtually impossible and most energy is spent simply getting on the ballot. Short of a self-financed candidate, like Ross Perot or Michael Bloomberg, no one is going to be elected president coming from outside the Republican and Democratic parties and no pro-lifer has the resources of a Perot or Bloomberg. The likeliest short-term consequence of voting for a pro-life outsider is to elect Hillary Clinton and waste one’s own vote.
Voting for a third-party candidate is not a “wasted” vote. A decent showing by a third-party candidate can wake up the major parties to address the issues that were the source of the outsider’s appeal. Perot’s 19 percent showing in 1992 refocused Washington on the need for deficit reduction. The left-wing environmentalists who gave Ralph Nader 3 percent of the vote in 2000 may have tipped the presidency to George W. Bush, but they also spurred Democratic congressman to be more green in the ensuing congressional session. The only votes that have impact are those that are willing to swing, thus making the candidates compete for them. At the presidential level, pro-life voters can swing only between Republicans and a third party. They must take the chance, at least once in a while, in order to avoid becoming irrelevant.
What does being pro-life boil down at the presidential level? With Roe vs. Wade in effect, no pro-life legislation is going to reach the president’s desk. In fact, most of the legislating is done at the state level. The pro-life issues a president most often faces deal with Medicaid funding for abortions and whether U.S. foreign aid can be directed to so-called “family planning” clinics that kill the unborn.
These are important issues, but they pale next to the importance of appointing good judges to the federal courts, particularly the Supreme Court. Roe vs. Wade is perhaps the single most misunderstood decision in history. An easy way to win a bar bet would be to ask an average voter if overturning Roe would outlaw abortions and ensure the sanctity of life. They would probably answer that it would. But it would not. The overturn of Roe simply allows states to write their own laws on abortion.
Roe holds that the right to an abortion has the same standing in the Constitution as the right to free speech—and therefore that states cannot legislate against it, save for on the fringes. It’s an absurd interpretation of the Constitution, but it’s what we are stuck with right now and no serious progress on the pro-life front can happen until this ruling is overturned and sanity restored. Therefore, the issue is not what one thinks about abortion per se, but what type of judges they would appoint.
It’s possible for a person to believe in legalized abortion, but also to reject the idea it’s a constitutional right. Furthermore, the courts rule on issues other then abortion. Property rights, law and order, interpretations of the Patriot Act are all issues that Guilani is far more identified with then abortion. And the kinds of judges that would rule the way he wants on these are judges in the mold of Sam Alito, Clarence Thomas, Antoin Scalia and John Roberts—who coincidentally happen to be the kinds of judges who are most likely to overturn Roe. It’s a mistake for pro-life voters to think that simply because abortion is at the top of our agenda, it’s necessarily at the top of everyone's, on all sides. Just as there are lukewarm pro-lifers who don't necessarily act on it politically, the same goes for the pro-abortion side of the aisle.
Therefore, a temporary alliance can form between Guilani and the pro-life movement, with each side getting progress on the issues that are at the forefront of their agenda.
It’s not reasonable to expect someone who invests all the blood, sweat and tears it takes to win the presidency to then turn around and use his power of appointment to help a cause he doesn’t believe in. Furthemore, judicial conservatism comes in many different hues. Conservative judges often have great belief in the value of precedent—even that which was erroneously decided to begin with.
Therefore, the likeliest judicial nominees to come from a Guilani White House would be candidates who might think that yes, Roe was a mistake…but also be unwilling to reverse it.
Well, this article isn’t an op-ed piece, so it’s not about reaching a conclusion. In the interests of full disclosure, right now my strong leaning is to Guilani. I think the odds of him appointing good judges outweight the potential benefits that come from third-party action right now. This could change—I’d still like to hear him directly address the issue and ensure he wouldn’t deliberately seek out overly cautious conservatives. And the third-party landscape could change if a visible and credible figure emerged to lead it.
Rudy vs. Hillary presents considerable risk for the pro-life movement no matter where you fall. One thing I firmly hope is that the debate between pro-lifers remains civil—not dispassionate, not unheated, but civil. Too often, the debates degenerate into mutual name-calling, with supporters of the GOP candidate insisting that third-party adherents are on a phony morality play and burying their heads on the sand. Supporters of the third-party candidate respond in kind by insisting that support for the major party candidate is indicative of the voter lacking any principle and just going with whomever happens to be winning at the time.
Neither characterization is fair. Politics presents imperfect choices and voters have to make do with the options as they are. And no more imperfect choice has been faced by the pro-life movement then the one that looks likely to happen one year from now.