In a very interesting City Journal article, Steven Malanga argues that "Yes, Rudy Guiliani Is a Conservative/And an electable one at that."

Malanga makes a strong case for Rudy as a Reagan-style conservative. He recounts well Giuliani’s record as mayor of New York City, in which, as Malanga establishes firmly, Rudy supported free markets and individual responsibility, as exemplified vividly in his tax cuts , welfare reform success, "zero tolerance" crimefighting, and firm rejection of racial politics.

As Malanga notes, Giuliani did this in what was one of the most leftist cities in the United States until he became mayor.

There’s no question in my mind that Giuliani was a superb mayor and is a solid man of the right in most of his public stances. What many conservatives question, of course, is his record on social issues (such as support for legality of abortions, homosexual marriage, and gun control) and his occasionally unsteady personal life (such as his divorce from his somewhat eccentric wife).

None of this, Malanga argues, should preclude conservatives from supporting Giuliani for President:

[I]n a GOP presidential field in which cultural and religious conservatives may find something to object to in every candidate who could really get nominated (and, more important, elected), Giuliani may be the most conservative candidate on a wide range of issues. Far from being a liberal, he ran New York with a conservative’s priorities: government exists above all to keep people safe in their homes and in the streets, he said, not to redistribute income, run a welfare state, or perform social engineering. The private economy, not government, creates opportunity, he argued; government should just deliver basic services well and then get out of the private sector’s way. He denied that cities and their citizens were victims of vast forces outside their control, and he urged New Yorkers to take personal responsibility for their lives. “Over the last century, millions of people from all over the world have come to New York City,” Giuliani once observed. “They didn’t come here to be taken care of and to be dependent on city government. They came here for the freedom to take care of themselves.” It was that spirit of opportunity and can-do-ism that Giuliani tried to re-instill in New York and that he himself exemplified not only in the hours and weeks after 9/11 but in his heroic and successful effort to bring a dying city back to life.

Malanga’s argument against conservative rejection of Giuliani is twofold. Point one is that the social issues are not as important as the economic and national defense policies which are Giuliani’s great strength. Point two is that Giuliani is conservative in the really important ways:

As part of Giuliani’s quintessentially conservative belief that dysfunctional behavior, not our economic system, lay at the heart of intergenerational poverty, he also spoke out against illegitimacy and the rise of fatherless families. A child born out of wedlock, he observed in one speech, was three times more likely to wind up on welfare than a child from a two-parent family. “Seventy percent of long-term prisoners and 75 percent of adolescents charged with murder grew up without fathers,” Giuliani told the city. He insisted that the city and the nation had to reestablish the “responsibility that accompanies bringing a child into the world,” and to that end he required deadbeat fathers either to find a private-sector job or to work in the city’s workfare program as a way of contributing to their child’s upbringing. But he added that changing society’s attitude toward marriage was more important than anything government could do: “[I]f you wanted a social program that would really save these kids, . . . I guess the social program would be called fatherhood.”

As a consequence of his rejection of the time-honored New York liberal belief in congenital black victimhood, Giuliani set out to change the city’s conversation about race. He objected to affirmative action, ending Gotham’s set-aside program for minority contractors, and he rejected the idea of lowering standards for minorities. Accordingly, he ended open enrollment at the City University of New York, a 1970s policy aimed at increasing the minority population at the nation’s third-largest public college system but one that also led to a steep decline in standards and in graduation rates.

This is a strong and important argument, and it will be good for the right to argue this one out.

Later in the article, Malanga makes the case that Giuliani is an important enough figure to merit presidential consideration: 

The national, and even world, press marveled at the spectacular success of Giuliani’s policies. The combination of a safer city and a better budget environment ignited an economic boom unlike any other on record. Construction permits increased by more than 50 percent, to 70,000 a year under Giuliani, compared with just 46,000 in Dinkins’s last year. Meanwhile, as crime plunged, New Yorkers took to the newly safe streets to go out at night to shows and restaurants, and the number of tourists soared from 24 million in the early 1990s to 38 million in 2000, the year before the 9/11 attacks. Under Giuliani, the city gained some 430,000 new jobs to reach its all-time employment peak of 3.72 million jobs in 2000, while the unemployment rate plummeted from 10.3 to 5.1 percent. Personal income earned by New Yorkers, meanwhile, soared by $100 million, or 50 percent, while the percentage of their income that they paid in taxes declined from 8.8 to 7.3 percent. During Giuliani’s second term, for virtually the only time since World War II, the city’s economy consistently grew faster than the nation’s.

Today, Americans see Giuliani as presidential material because of his leadership in the wake of the terrorist attacks, but to those of us who watched him first manage America’s biggest city when it was crime-ridden, financially shaky, and plagued by doubts about its future as employers and educated and prosperous residents fled in droves, Giuliani’s leadership on 9/11 came as no surprise. What Americans saw after the attacks is a combination of attributes that Giuliani governed with all along: the tough-mindedness that had gotten him through earlier civic crises, a no-nonsense and efficient management style, and a clarity and directness of speech that made plain what he thought needed to be done and how he would do it.

Like great wartime leaders, Giuliani displayed unflinching courage on 9/11. A minute after the first plane struck, he rushed downtown, arriving at the World Trade Center just after the second plane hit the South Tower, when it became obvious to everyone that New York was under attack. Fearing that more strikes were on the way—and without access to City Hall, the police department, or the city’s command center because of damage from the attacks—Giuliani hurried to reestablish city government, narrowly escaping death himself as the towers came down next to a temporary command post he had set up in lower Manhattan. “There is no playbook for a mayor on how to organize city government when you are standing on a street covered by dust from the city’s worst calamity,” one of his deputy mayors, Anthony Coles, later observed.

This is all true, and I think that Malanga is right to conclude that Rudy Giuliani merits serious consideration as a presidential candidate.

In addition to that, I think that the discussion of Giuliani’s qualifications for national leadership could be very salutary f
or the right. Those who define themselves as conservatives find it hard to support someone with Guiliiani’s record on social issues.

As a liberal of the right, I too disagree with Guiliani’s positions supporting abortion, gay marriage, and the like. However, I think that Guiliani would have to move a little to the right on these issues in order to secure the Republican nomination, and that as president he would not be any less supportive of the Right’s social agenda than Ronald Reagan was as president.

Guiliani reminds me rather strongly of Reagan, in fact. Although Reagan talked the talk on social issues, he didn’t really walk the walk, unless I wasn’t looking when Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Casey voted to turn back Roe v. Wade in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision. Similarly, Reagan had been divorced and had a rather less than perfectly salubrious family life. But on the big things Reagan was the best president of the past century.

If Rudy Guiliani could be half that good, that would make hiim a superior president indeed. His candidacy merits serious consideration.