The reasons that I think that Giuliani gets so much surface support among conservatives are clear: he is a national hero (and will remain so for what he did on 9/11 - I think that while he did clean up New York City that many of those who did not actually live in the city and are citing this in support of him are doing so in a retrospective fashion), like Barak Obama he has received nothing short of adulatory press coverage as far as the presidential race is concerned, he has made a national and very profitable institution out himself and his leadership, contrary to the views of the punditocracy the vast majority of the general public is unaware of his views, that he has avoided being tarred by the various scandals that would have tarred his candidacy (i.e. Bernard Kerik), and finally that he is still being covered more as a celebrity than as an actual candidate. It's easy to like a charismatic celebrity, leading to bizarre rationalizations that we should support Giuliani because he "feels conservative" even if we acknowledge intellectually that he does the exact opposite. I don't know exactly what to call the latter except a cult of personality, so if anyone has any alternative definitions feel free to share them.
One other point I might want to add is that given that the majority of President Bush's second term is looking to be an extreme disappointment to many conservatives, I think that a lot of them are looking to Giuliani because they regard him as a kind of more charismatic substitute for the first term President Bush. That, and because I think that a lot of the conservative establishment is willing to at least consider Giuliani because they view the threats of either a Hillary Clinton victory or McCain winning the nomination as something akin to the apocalypse. To the first, I would note that running a candidate solely on the basis of whether or not they can defeat another candidate is almost always a bad idea. That was the Democrats' alleged plan regarding John Kerry and it didn't end terribly well.
As to the second, as everyone here knows, I support McCain and I think that the Economist is pretty much right-on here:
Conservative activists might warm to Mr McCain if they took another look at him. It is true that he has quarrelled with conservative pressure groups. But that is often because he sees them as obstacles to achieving conservative ends, such as a balanced budget or clean politics. It is true that Mr McCain refused to endorse the Federal Marriage Amendment. But he did so for the eminently conservative reason that these sorts of issues should be decided by the states rather than the federal government. It is true that Mr McCain has pushed for more federal funding for stem-cell research. But he has also been more consistently conservative on abortion than any of the other first-tier candidates.
Mr McCain has a rare ability to present conservative ideas in a language that moderates and independents can find appealing. He also has a rare ability to break with the conservative establishment on subjects where they are obviously batting on a losing wicket, such as global warming. This could make him the best candidate for reviving conservatism from its current dismal state—and also the best candidate for keeping conservatism alive in a Washington where the Democrats rule Capitol Hill.
Mr McCain has also often been right about the war. He was one of the first major politicians to call for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. He repeatedly criticised George Bush's tolerance of torture as a stain on America's good name. Even his support for Mr Bush's “surge” may not be as much of a liability as it appears. The bulk of Republican primary voters are in favour of giving the war one last chance; and Mr McCain's willingness to risk his political career over Iraq burnishes his tarnished reputation as a straight-talker.
His biggest weakness has to do with age rather than ideology. He will be 72 if he is elected to the White House, and his face is visibly scarred from bouts with skin cancer. But he has the energy and attitude of a much younger man, and seems to absorb energy from his audience. And he also boasts the most impressive biography in American politics. The McCain Express will not stay stuck in the station for ever.
Ramesh Ponurru made much the same argument in the most recent issue of National Review. And coming from the guy who wrote The Party of Death, I think that's a pretty convincing case. But even if it isn't and McCain is still considered unacceptable by conservatives for the reasons that many conservatives consider him such, Mitt Romney has gone well out of his way to publicly embrace and actively court social conservatives. One can question the political timing of his support, but to me at least the issues have always been far more important than the individual.
That said, we can talk about Giuliani winning the nomination and even the presidency in terms that do not parallel the apocalypse. If he wins either, then he will create a sizable "moderate" constituency within the Republican Party that will probably take years to evict. This is basically what Andrew Sullivan was trying to do with his whole idea of liberal hawks a few years back and I opposed that as an organizing principle for conservatives on much the same basis. What I suspect will also occur is that were Giuliani to win the nomination he will find himself having little in the way of grassroots support among the people who put him in office. A major element of his appeal is alleged to be his electability (so that he can defeat Hillary or Obama) and if that is in fact the case then he will have basically delivered the biggest victory he can as far as many conservatives are concerned by defeating Hillary Clinton. And while I have no doubt that he or Obama or Hillary will defend the United States to the best of their ability (whether or not that synchs with reality is another matter), his attempt to get the Bush administration to appoint a nominee like Bernard Kerik to a post as sensitive as Department of Homeland Security leads me to believe that there may be less than meets the eye about his tough stance on issues that are not under his personal control.
One final point I will make is that even if worst-case scenario does occur, the absolute worst thing for the pro-life movement to do is to retreat from politics. To do otherwise, especially at a time when a pro-choice president is in power, strikes me as substituting self-righteousness and condescension for society as a whole with actual concern for human life. Jesus had quite a few things to say about individuals who were so eager to strain a gnat while swallowing a camel.
Edit: Updated to correct my horrid mispelling of Giuliani.