In contrast to the other worthies at last night’s Simi Valley, California, debate among candidates for the Republican party’s presidential nomination, Rudy Guiliani expressed very muted support for the idea of the U.S. Supreme Court reversing its 1972 Roe v. Wade decision that made it impossible for states to regulate abortion.

Republican presidential candidates gather for debate at Ronald Reagan Library May 3, 2007

Most of the candidates present expressed great enthusiasm for a reversal, with Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback characterizing the prospect as a "glorious day of human liberty and freedom."

Guiliani, by contrast, said it be "OK." . . .

The AP report summarizes it well: 

"It would be OK to repeal," said Giuliani, New York’s former mayor, contending with his record of support for abortion rights as he courts conservative Republicans.

"I think the court has to make that decision and then the country can deal with it. We’re a federalist system of government and states can make their own decisions," said Giuliani, who leads Republicans in the polls.

Although not at all in tune with social conservatives’ intense dislike of Roe, Guiliani’s answer did manage to square the circle of his professed personal opposition to it and prior firm support of the courts’ keeping it legal by restricting the states from all but the most ineffectual legislation about it.

Guiliani’s statement that he wouldn’t have a problem with a reversal of Roe if the Supreme Court decided to do that, coming on the heels of his previous promises (promises! promises!) that he would appoint "strict constructionist" judges, is a definite movement away from his former enthusiastic support for the court-ordered legality of abortion (as opposed to letting the voters decide, which Roe ended).

Most observers consider strict constructionist judges to be the type that might vote to overturn Roe, even though it is not a strict-construction issue. Hence, in practical terms Rudy seems to be saying the following:

  1. I am personally very strongly opposed to abortion.
  2. I enthusiastically support the Supreme Court’s 1972 decision to remove voters’ rights to decide whether to allow abortions in their respective states or otherwise to regulate the practice in any effective way.
  3. I will appoint judges who will probably overturn Roe v. Wade.
  4. It will be "OK" with me if they do that.

If that sounds convoluted . . . well, I suspect a lot of Republicans are going to be "OK" with it.

It certainly makes Guiliani stand out from the rest of the group, and middle-of-the-roaders could see his lonely position as rather courageous. But they’re not the ones who typically flock to the polls during the primaries, especially in Republican strongholds in the South and West.

The question is, will Rudy’s Alice in Wonderland logic on abortion enable another candidate, one firmer on this issue, to separate himself from the pack and make Rudy’s position on this look weak-kneed, thereby destroying Rudy’s strongest quality as a candidate, his strength in confronting crises?

My guess:

It will.