One of the juicy political stories last week was Rudolph Giuliani's decision to come out in favor of abortion rights, challenging the prevailing notion that one cannot win the Republican nomination without echoing the social agenda of the religious wing of the party. See, for example, this article. In the days leading up to Giuliani's decision, another article quoted a conservative writer as follows: "One of the big ironies for him is he doesn’t care about abortion." That is easy to believe, given how much flip-flopping and pandering Giuliani has done on abortion and other social issues (including his bizarre engagement with the Confederate flag as an issue).
What does he care about -- or, more accurately, what is he hoping Republican voters will care about enough to vote for him? In a recent interview in Business Week, Giuliani said that he could win over Christian conservatives on two big issues: "I think I'll do well with conservative voters because they will see that I'm one of the most fiscally conservative candidates in the race. I'm the one who has just about the strongest record on tax cuts. And I think they will be in pretty close to total agreement with me on how to handle homeland security and deal with terrorism."
It's actually quite interesting that he did not mention terrorism first, since he is basically running on the basis of having stepped forward on 9/11 when George W. Bush was nowhere to be found. (Of course, it's not at all obvious why handling the aftermath of an attack proves that someone would be good at dealing with terrorism. More broadly, his opponents might well want to figure out a savvy way to make the substance of the following announcement: "When I am president, if I am ever AWOL reading 'The Pet Goat' during a crisis, Rudy Giuliani will be authorized to stand in for me at the scene. Otherwise, I'll be the president." What other reason would anyone have to want him as president?)
If Giuliani is really planning to run on fiscal policy and taxes, though, he has a lot of work to do. Consider this gem: "I don't think the government has had that kind of fiscal discipline, at least in my memory, since the Reagan Administration." It is hard to know what to make of that statement, given that Reagan-era deficits were the largest as a percentage of GDP since WWII. (I often argue that deficits are not the root of all evil, but here I'm simply using the typical political standard for measuring "fiscal discipline.") The best that one can say is that Giuliani has decided to invoke Reagan as often as possible, no matter the subject.
What about his specific views on taxes? He now uses Steve Forbes as an advisor, so is he for a flat tax? "I support simplifying the tax code. ... These days it would be unrealistic to go all the way to a flat tax. But you can use it as a guide to figure out how you're going to simplify taxes." It's a good thing he has over a year to fill in the blanks. He mostly says that he is against raising taxes and in favor of decreasing taxes, which hardly distinguishes him from anyone.
Finally, on the estate tax: "And the death tax is just a great example of what's wrong with Washington. The death tax is going down to 45% in 2009. In 2010, it's going to zero. Then in 2011 it goes back to 55%. That is ludicrous. Only Washington could create a tax incentive for death. We've got to either eliminate the death tax—it's a double tax, anyway—or reduce it to something sensible." Although he memorized the numbers correctly, just about everything in that statement is absurd or a distortion. Economists such as Paul Krugman have joked about the phase-out (referring to the 2010/2011 oddity as the "Throw Momma From the Train Act"), but that has nothing to do with estate taxes per se. The phaseout was a result of the Bushies' decision to hide the true cost of the 2001 tax bill by sunsetting its provisions, hoping that later Congresses would do the dirty work of paying for outright repeal. (And by the way, there is no "death tax," and the estate tax is not a double tax.)
None of these inanities sets Giuliani apart from his competitors -- in good or bad ways. They're all invoking Reagan. They're all against taxes and in favor of budget cuts. If Giuliani thinks that he can divert attention from his stands on social issues by invoking terror and taxes, he had better hope that his views on terror really, really connect with voters. His statements about taxes are nothing to write home about.