Yesterday and today (in response to Andrew Sullivan), Hotline’s Marc Ambinder pointed out that Rudy Giuliani is, perhaps, making a dodge on a variety of issues by invoking federalism. In essence, Marc’s position is:

By not saying something like

I think the flag is divisive, and I don’t like it. But Alabamans can do what they want.

And instead saying only “Alabama should do what it wants,” Giuliani implies that each side’s arguments have equal merit – which, in an of itself, is a moral judgment whether Giuliani realizes it or not.

In other words, Marc is saying that Giuliani is using some sort of "states rights" argument to avoid answering the question. This belies the Giuliani campaign’s argument that "voters know where Rudy is on the issues."

Now, each major GOP candidate is making some sort of federalism argument on a major social issue. However when John McCain and Mitt Romney take federalist positions, they still state what their position is.  Rudy does not. That is the contrast that Marc is making. Start with a chart (yes, I like them):

  Abortion Marriage
  Federalist Pro-life? Federalist? Pro-amendment?
Giuliani No? No Yes No
McCain No Yes Yes Yes
Romney Yes Yes No Yes
Field No Yes No Yes

Giuliani is saying, I think, that he supports Roe and opposes the marriage amendment, and would vote against a marriage amendment in his own state. (I don’t have a reference on the last point)

John McCain is saying that abortion should be decided at the federal level and that he is pro-life (he supports a federal Life amendment). However, he does not support a federal marriage amendment, "only" a state one.

Mitt Romney is the flip of McCain’s position. He does not support a federal life amendment. He said in his Ask Mitt Anything clip on Life:

My view is that instead of having a one-size-fits-all pronouncement for the entire nation that we currently have, that each state should be able to make their own choice in this regard.

However, Romney is not a federalist on marriage, supporting a federal marriage amendment.

The remainder of the GOP field is, to my knowledge, not federalist on either issue and both pro-life and pro-FMA.

It is fair to say that using a federalism argument in the GOP is a way of moderating your stance.  For a long time in the GOP intelligentsia circles, being pro-choice but anti-Roe has been somewhat acceptable. And here Mitt Romney appears to be anti-Roe (however, he does call for "reasonable" pro-life laws, whatever that means) and pro-life. People have attacked John McCain for not being opposed "enough" to gay marriage. (Mitt Romney called it "disengenuous." I wonder if Romney’s federalism on life is based on principle or politics).

Again, as Marc points out, "We’re a politics blog, and so we’re making a political point." So let me close on a political point.

Ultimately, cases are made on these issues in direct mail. These are not made on TV. (although YouTube and highly segmented cable markets may change that) From a political-mechanical perspective, it is easy to see how the non-federalist position is the easiest to explain. Expect mail like, "Mitt Romney is not pro-life. He thinks that Massachusetts should be able to have pro-choice laws," and, "John McCain doesn’t support marriage. He voted against the marriage amendment." The second sentence in each of those is true, and taken, incorrectly for some but correctly for others, to be evidence for the first. Such is life.

As Matt Lewis said, "Politics is tough.  Get a helmet!"


ALB · April 14, 2007 at 10:23 AM

As Jacob Levy put it, “A procedural point isn’t an answer to a substantive question about what the desirable outcome of the process would be.” » Romney, like Giuliani, ducks on SC ultrasound bill · April 13, 2007 at 3:04 PM

[…] Last week, I said that Mitt Romney supported the South Carolina ultrasound-before-abortion bill. But I was wrong. He has said that it is a state issue and ducked, invoking the same federalism argument that Rudy Giuliani is using. From AP: "I would like to see each state be able to make its own law with regard to abortion," Romney said after a speech to about 50 small business leaders. "I think the Roe v. Wade one-size-fits-all approach is wrong." […]

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