I'm really losing it for Frank Rich.
Look, I know he has an idee fixe -- that the brand of Republicanism represented by Bush is dead, that the whole country has moved on, and that only the end-timer Bushies don't understand that. But, as a result, he's been implying lately that the GOP, symbolized by its '08 front-runner, is making a clean break with the past. That isn't true at all on most issues -- yet Rich's repeated assertion of this is going to help form the conventional wisdom. That means he'll help make swing voters much more comfortable with that GOP front-runner if he's the '08 nominee.
At least Rich, to his credit, is no longer saying, as he did a couple of months ago, that Giuliani represents a significant break from Bush on the war:
... Mr. Giuliani ... wasn't a cheerleader for the subsequent detour into Iraq, wasn't in office once the war started, and actively avoids speaking about it in any detail.
Here, of course, is Giuliani a week ago on Fox News:
GIULIANI: Anybody proposing giving the enemy a timetable of our retreat is proposing something that is fundamentally irresponsible and something that is unheard of in the history of war.
...It comes about from a fundamental misunderstanding of the terrorist threat that we face. There are people in this world that are planning to come here and kill us.
That, of course, could have been written by Bush's speechwriters. Or Cheney's.
But Rich still thinks a page has been turned. Here he is today (read the column free here):
It [Jerry Falwell's death] happened at the precise moment that the Falwell-Robertson brand of religious politics is being given its walking papers by a large chunk of the political party the Christian right once helped to grow. Hours after Mr. Falwell died, Rudy Giuliani, a candidate he explicitly rejected, won the Republican debate by acclamation....
The current exemplars of Mr. Falwell's gay-baiting, anti-Roe style of politics, James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, see the writing on the wall. Electability matters more to Republicans these days than Mr. Giuliani's unambiguous support for abortion rights and gay civil rights (no matter how clumsily he's tried to fudge it).
But if electability really mattered so much to Republicans, they would have coalesced from the start around John McCain, who was seen as the front-runner and as eminently electable six months ago. They didn't. And if Republicans have really moved on and utterly rejected the causes of the Christian right, why are so many of them looking over their shoulders in desperation, waiting for the much more litmusy Fred Thompson to enter the race?
Republicans are merely weighing pluses and minuses. They want someone who'll take evil brown people and kick their asses -- that means a lot to them -- and they think Rudy's the best guy in the race on that score. Hurting evil brown people counts for so much with these voters that some of them -- by no means all of them -- are willing to put social issues on the back burner. They're treating Giuliani's stands on the social issues the way they've treated Bush's stand on immigration -- they'll vote for him regardless, but they'll fight like hell if he tries to act on his beliefs.
And surely they'd rather have a litmus-test Giuliani. If McCain had pandered to them more adroitly, or if Fred Thompson were already up and running, or if they trusted Romney, we might be looking at a different front-runner, and thus exactly the same GOP we've had for six (or, to be precise, twenty-six) years.
And should we be happy if a moderation on abortion and gay rights is the means by which the GOP gets to continue running the U.S. as a warmongering kleptocracy? How different is this from the tweaks of "compassionate conservatism," which helped push Bush into office? Rudy's social-issue stands are to him what support for education reform was for Bush -- sugar-coating for the right-wing pill.