Rudy Giuliani stood firm with his pro-choice stance, and paid for it.
His front-runner status is a memory. Now he trails in his home state. If he wins Florida on Tuesday, it would be the shocker of the season. If he doesn't, the fat lady of his beloved operas will be singing.
The collapse of Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign would mark a sour finale after a head-turning start. Hard though it is to remember, less than a year ago he had a commanding 25-point lead over the GOP field. That he has finished no better than fourth in the first primaries and won more votes than Ron Paul only once demonstrates how far America's Mayor has fallen.
Yet defeat would be more than just a personal rejection of Giuliani. It would be a stinging rebuke to the brazen idea he represented that a pro-choice candidate can win the Republican Party's nomination for President. In an election year when "change" is the coin of the realm, a pro-choice Republican nominee would have been dramatic.
It is no accident that since Roe vs. Wade in 1973, only Gerald Ford, in 1976, supported abortion rights when he won party backing. The circumstances around which Ford got the spot replacing the disgraced Richard Nixon and trying to repair a shattered party are so exceptional that they prove the rule that the GOP is the pro-life party, just as the Democratic Party is rigidly pro-choice.
The amazing thing is that the bid by Giuliani, the only pro-choice candidate among the Republicans, to upset that dynamic looked as though it might succeed. The combination of his accomplishments in New York, his iconic status from 9/11, big Republican losses in 2006 and the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency added up to a rare opportunity to break GOP orthodoxy and reshape the political landscape.
If Giuliani had pulled it off, the Republican Party would have changed in one of two fundamental ways.
First, and more likely, it would have expanded its base to include new voters, especially many younger women who trust it on fiscal and security issues but shun it because abortion is their litmus test. Democratic turnout in the primaries has been about 56% female and hit 59% in Nevada, owing in part to Hillary Clinton's historic candidacy but also reflecting the party's female-heavy, pro-choice base.
Consider, for example, that there is no woman in the GOP with a status comparable to Clinton's or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's. On gender, the GOP stands in perfect contrast to Democrats. Republican turnout this year has been 57% male.
The gap is not immutable. If Republicans featured a pro-choice nominee, they could start to make inroads in blue and swing states by attracting white suburban women who increasingly decide close elections.
The other possible scenario under a Giuliani nominee is far less rosy for the GOP. The party might have fractured, with a faction of pro-life groups making good on its promise to back a third-party candidate.
That could have meant a generational realignment with immediate consequences. Democrats would win the White House this year, no matter who they nominate, and would score big majorities in Congress. There would be no counterweight to liberal tax and social policies and Democratic judges would change the federal courts. Among other results, even the modest restrictions on abortion rights would likely be jettisoned.
Giuliani was hardly the perfect messenger to challenge the pro-life lock on the GOP. He has been married three times, the last coming after a public affair and a brutal divorce. He is apparently estranged from his children. He bunked with a gay couple when his former wife kicked him out of the mayoral home. He sided with former President Bill Clinton in the battle with Republicans over gun control. He once endorsed Mario Cuomo, the Democratic antichrist of his time. The long list of negatives includes his close association with the now-disgraced Bernard Kerik.
Then there is abortion itself. Giuliani's path to the pro-choice barricades was tortured, but there is zero chance he would have been elected mayor of New York had he been on the other side. He proclaimed his support for abortion rights so many times during his mayoralty that his brief attempt to fudge in the presidential race made him look conniving and weak.
Now comes the final verdict. Assuming Florida finishes him off, he will have few prospects in his party. More significantly, his party will have fewer chances to redraw the political map.