Monday, July 30, 2007

Republican presidential candidates are flocking to see Britain’s icon of conservatism, Margaret Thatcher, in the hope that her blessing could help their bids for the presidency.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, the Republican front-runner, will become the latest 2008 candidate to kiss the former prime minister’s hand when he travels to London in September to deliver the inaugural Margaret Thatcher memorial lecture to the Atlantic Bridge think tank.

He follows in the footsteps of Fred Thompson, poised to announce his presidential run and already running second in the polls, and Mitt Romney, who is running strong in the crucial early states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Mr. Thompson, a former senator and Hollywood actor, dropped in on her in London last month, saying he wanted “to remind her of America’s affection for her and pay our respects.” Mr. Romney took the opportunity to burnish his conservative credentials with a Thatcher audience last autumn.

It is Mr. Giuliani, however, who is perhaps best placed to capitalize on nostalgia in America for Mrs. Thatcher and her close friendship with Ronald Reagan, who is still lauded for winning the Cold War and restoring hope and confidence in the country.

As mayor of New York on September 11, Mr. Giuliani became a national hero for his leadership in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Mr. Giuliani, who leads Mr. Thompson by about eight percentage points in national polls, has long been an admirer of World War II-era British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the figure from history most often mentioned in the same breath as Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Reagan.

Although distrusted by many religious conservatives, Republicans view national security as the No. 1 priority in post-September 11 America — Mr. Giuliani’s strongest suit and the issue with which Mrs. Thatcher is most associated in the American mind.

“Since the passing of Ronald Reagan, Lady Thatcher is the last remaining great icon of the conservative movement,” said Nile Gardiner, the director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington.

It is no accident, he added, that it was Republican candidates who were turning to Britain rather than their Democratic counterparts.

“All of the leading Republican candidates attach huge importance to the Anglo-American special relationship,” Mr. Gardiner said.

“In contrast, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are obsessed with the notion of being popular in continental Europe despite the fact that France and Germany are highly unlikely ever to stand with America in a war.”

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