Rudy gets religion?

Giuliani speechAllow me to express a certain amount of skepticism toward the idea that if former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is talking about religion, he must be gearing up for a presidential run. Newsweek's Howard Fineman follows the theme set by Andrew Sullivan in The Sunday Times last month that Giuliani's speech at the Global Pastors Network in Orlando, Fla., is a sign that he intends to run for president. This is, in my opinion, a bit of an exaggeration and an attempt by Sullivan to drum up support for a candidate he'd prefer in 2008. Sullivan makes a big deal out of the fact that Rudy does not think the right way on many of the issues identified by Karl Rove as key ways of winning over the "oh so important" evangelical vote that was somehow decisive in the 2004 election. And somehow that makes him some sort of anti-evangelical.

Nevertheless, this is a story with some legs, so here is what Fineman had to say in this week's Newsweek:

If you're a Republican who wants to be president, the place to be this weekend is Memphis's Peabody Hotel, with its parading ducks -- and politicians. Unless, of course, you're Rudy Giuliani. In that case, you skip the Southern Republican Leadership Conference even if -- or, rather, especially because -- it's the unofficial launch of the GOP's 2008 presidential cycle. Let lesser birds flock there; "America's mayor" will be traveling on business. For a man with near-total name ID, a 9/11 hero's aura -- and, most valuable in these post-Katrina days, a reputation for administrative competence -- it's best to fly alluringly alone for now.

Let's put Fineman's overuse of dashes aside for now. I guess we have to accept the Southern Republican Leadership Conference as the launch of the 2008 presidential cycle, but we aren't even through the midterms.

Most of those who attended this event with presidential aspirations considered this event a "pick-up game," in the words of of Sen. George Allen, R-Va. "Intra-squad scrimmages" (which will come after the midterms) determine who gets to "start," but this conference doesn't reach that level.

GiulianiTimeSullivan was a bit blunter in promoting Giuliani's religious and presidential credentials (even suggesting that a Giuliani-Rice ticket would give the Democrats the most nightmares -- and I happen to agree on that, by the way, but it won't happen):

An under-reported event took place at the end of last month. A leading Republican candidate went to address the evangelical Global Pastors Network in Orlando, Florida. The network is a large group, aiming to set up 5m churches worldwide in the next decade. Its leaders believe the apocalypse is coming soon and that their efforts at evangelisation might help accelerate the moment of rapture, when good Christians will be whisked to heaven to meet Jesus.

None of this is particularly noteworthy. The fastest growing theme in American evangelicalism is the pre-millennialist movement, while Left Behind, the fictional books dramatising the "end times", are the bestselling adult series in America. What was surprising was that the Republican candidate addressing them was none other than Rudy Giuliani, the pro-choice, pro-gay, divorced Catholic former mayor of New York.

Giuliani gushed over his religious-right audience, according to an account on the evangelical website Crosswalk.com. "The principles of leadership apply universally," he said, "whether in business, government, a sports team or a church. It is wonderful to see you improving yourselves in a way to make your ministries more effective. It is a miracle what you do." He went on to stress his own faith in dealing with the crisis of 9/11.

Regardless of whether one thinks that these particular evangelicals are, or ever were, the lynchpin for a GOP presidential wannabes, are Giuliani's overtures enough to overcome his views on key social issues? No one doubts his Christian faith, but Giuliani supports some of the very things that these evangelicals believe is wrong with this country, including gay marriage and a woman's ready access to an abortion.

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