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Rudy sticks to his roots in conservatism

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani was in Washington on Tuesday to raise money ... and to see me. In a nondescript office building two blocks from the White House, Giuliani answered a wide range of questions on domestic and foreign policy.

Two hours after a news conference by President Bush on the subject of the newest National Intelligence Estimate, which said Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003, Giuliani said the report should not be seen in isolation from Iran's behavior and rhetoric over the last 30 years.

Noting Iran's expressed goal of destroying Israel, Giuliani said, 'We are not going to allow (Iran) to become a nuclear power (because) the regime, not just particular individuals, but the regime, has been too irresponsible for that to happen. The worst nightmare of the Cold War was that nuclear weapons would be in the hands of irresponsible individuals. They qualify as irresponsible, both as individuals and as a regime.' He said the military option against Iran is 'more likely' if they are allowed to become a nuclear power.

Does he see this as a good time to meet with Iranian leaders? 'Only if I felt we were in a position of sufficient strength that we had the leverage. I would not do it the way the Democrats are suggesting we do it, which is without preconditions. It's very naive to think you can have negotiations with people who are dictators, tyrants and supporters of terrorism without preconditions.' That seemed aimed at Sen. Barack Obama, who has said as president he would 'engage' Iranian leaders.

Giuliani is 'concerned' that Russian President Vladimir Putin has 'taken several steps back toward a more totalitarian government.' He would not submit to Putin's desire to avoid a missile shield in Europe. 'Just do it,' Giuliani said. He also would borrow from Ronald Reagan's military buildup, because he believes neither the Russian or Chinese economies could keep up. That, he said, would lessen the likelihood of an arms race.

On domestic issues, Giuliani said there are three parts to fiscal conservatism: Reduce spending, cut taxes and make sure regulations are 'moderate and sensible as opposed to regulating businesses out of your state or country.' Pressed on which agencies he would eliminate, he said he would rely on an Office of Management and Budget report card and seek 10 percent spending reductions in all agencies, except for the military. Mostly, he says he would reduce the size and cost of government through attrition. 'Forty-two percent (of civilian federal workers) are going to retire in the next 8 to 10 years.' By not hiring replacements, he estimates $22 to $23 billion could be saved.

Of greatest interest to social conservatives is Giuliani's pledge to nominate only 'strict constructionists' to the federal courts. Why would a supporter of 'choice' on abortion nominate judges likely to overturn Roe v. Wade? 'My view of a strict constructionist or originalist judge who sticks with the plain meaning of the Constitution comes from my judicial philosophy. It's not that I want one particular decision changed.'

He added that originalists might have 'different views on this' and that precedent might trump even a wrongly decided case like Roe. Or, he said, the justices could overturn it. He cited the Second Amendment case the Supreme Court agreed to consider as a fine example of strict constructionism and noted that Judge Laurence Silberman read 'The Federalist Papers' and other writings and speeches at the time the Bill of Rights was written to see what the authors intended.

With Hillary Clinton's numbers declining in Iowa, according to the latest USA Today/Gallup Poll (his are, too) does he have a Plan B in case Obama wins the nomination? 'It's the same plan,' he said. 'The electoral map is roughly the same for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.' But this time, he said, Republicans can't afford to allow the election to come down to one state as occurred in 2000 (Florida) and 2004 (Ohio). He thinks he can compete better in states that are close and even where Democrats are strong, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest.

On personal matters, such as his three marriages, Giuliani says he should be judged on his ability to do the job. He mentions that some of our greatest presidents had personal failings. True, but let's see if he can sell that to the 'values voters.' If Hillary Clinton is the nominee, he might. Possibly less so if it's Obama.

E-mail nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas at calthomas@tribune.com.