The timing couldn't have been better -- or worse, depending on your perspective. Two major story lines collided Thursday. First there was the news that Republican presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani would declare his support for abortion rights and try to leapfrog states in the GOP primary election that won't look kindly on that stand. And then within the same news cycle Pope Benedict XVI said that execommunication of lawmakers who act to legalize abortion is appropriate.
The two stories somehow survived on separate tracks in the major newspapers -- but not in the minds of commentators and in this Newsday article by Craig Gordon.
My big question is why at least two major news outlets -- The New York Times and Time -- failed to mention the Pope (or Giuliani's Catholicism) in their articles on Giuliani's decision to "offer a forthright affirmation of his support for abortion."
Newsday asked the question, but we didn't get much of an answer:
Giuliani himself declined to respond directly to the pope's comments and wouldn't answer questions about whether he believed his support for abortion rights could damage his standing in the church.
"I don't get into debates with the pope," Giuliani told reporters.
"Issues like that for me are between me and my confessor. ... I'm a Catholic and that's the way I resolve those issues, personally and privately," he said. "That's what religion is all about -- it's something that's between you and your conscience and God and then whoever your spiritual advisers are."
The article also has some very helpful background info on Giuliani's approach when he criticized the Vatican for criticizing President Clinton's veto of a late-term abortion ban in 1996. It's always good when reporters take public figures to task for unexplained inconsistent positions.
Giuliani's decision to speak "forthrightly" about his abortion stance changes the story line. His donations to Planned Parenthood are no longer an issue. But his chances of being elected deserve a much closer and analytical look.
Jonathan Chait of The New Republic says that Giuliani is a "dead man walking." Here's why:
Candidates have tried hopping primary states, and it usually fails. Sometimes you can hop one state. You can't hop three.
Giuliani's best appeal to conservatives will be to convince them that he's the most electable candidate. But you can't do that if you lose the first three primaries. By the time February 5 rolls around, he's going to be buried. Indeed, his campaign might not even exist at that point.
The tricky thing about writing on how Giuliani's trying skip certain primary states is that the order of primaries has yet to be established. But it's worth taking a close look at determining exactly what states Giuliani plans to hop over in order and then start determining how the other candidates will perform. It'll be some tricky calculus, but it could lead to some compelling stories.