Rudy Giuliani may be taking a sucker bet, but the man who cleaned up New York when they said it couldn't be done is putting down all his chips.
The hero of September 11 came to California over the weekend to address the Republican state convention and drew boisterous applause, even from some of the social conservatives, with a stomp-down defense of George W. Bush and a demand for new resolve in the war against the terrorists, in Iraq and anywhere else they are.
"I think in a time of war, you don't talk about pulling out," he said. Presidents don't do nonbinding resolutions, because they can't. "Presidents have to make decisions and move the country forward, and that's the kind of president I will want to be."
Mr. Giuliani was careful not to say he was absolutely, positively in the race for the Republican nomination, not quite yet, but when reporters badgered him later to ask when he would "formally" announce he badgered back. "If you go back to my speech, I think I may have. I'm not sure."
He arrived in Sacramento to speculation that he would get a tepid reception because a lot of California Republicans don't like some of the things he says about the issues dear to conservative hearts abortion (he's not necessarily against it), guns (he's against 'em), same-sex "marriage" (he's definitely not against that) and marriage without the quotation marks (he has twice demonstrated that he's for that).
"I don't think his values are lining up too well with our values as Republicans," Jim Palmer, a delegate from Orange County, told the Sacramento Bee. He likes Mitt Romney (who became a Mormon a century too late to demonstrate how pro-marriage a man could be). "I think Rudy, with his lifestyle, brings a lot of baggage that will need to be addressed."
The baggage, unchecked and unaddressed, was left at the door. Duf Sundheim, the outgoing state chairman, introduced him as the man who lifted the nation's spirits in the wake of the Islamist attacks of September 11. "One of the lasting images of that terrible, terrible day," he said, "is the strength, the leadership and the compassion embodied in one man."
Mr. Sundheim said in an interview later that many Republicans who are put off by the Giuliani views on abortion, gays and guns nevertheless see him as the strong leader. "People have repeatedly said to me, 'Look, if it comes down to whether I'm going to get blown up or whether I get my way on a social issue, I want to be around. I need a strong leader who's going to protect me."
This is clearly the Giuliani strategy for dealing with the skepticism of the party's most conservative faithful. He returned several times to his experience in the aftermath of September 11. "Any time I felt down that day," he said, "all I had to do was look at my firefighters and police officers and rescue workers. I saw in their eyes their strength, their determination. They were the children and grandchildren of the men who fought and died to protect us in the Second World War, in Korea and in so many other places. This is our American spirit. We're going to prevail over terrorism because people who live in freedom know not only what they have to die for, but what they have to live for."
Strong stuff, and His Honor reached even farther into history for an invocation of resolve under siege. "Abraham Lincoln was able to say, 'I know my people are frustrated, and I know my people are angry at me.' But Lincoln had that ability that a leader has a leader like George Bush, a leader like Ronald Reagan to look into the future."
Risky stuff. The Democratic wannabes want to inspire by crying to everyone willing to listen that they want to stop the world to get off. Mr. Giuliani risks tying himself to a president not only unpopular, but reviled by large segments of a fickle public which venerates celebrity over all, eager to choose a president as if he were a candidate for "American Idol."
But he's a gambling man. An earlier date that lives in infamy fired Americans with what the Japanese commander at Pearl Harbor called "a terrible resolve." Rudy Guiliani thinks he can inspire the grandchildren of those men and women with a similar terrible resolve.