COULD RUDY FORCE G.O.P. CRACK-UP? If Religious Right founder and direct-mail kingpin Richard Viguerie has anything to say about it, a Giuliani nomination might do just that. Yesterday, I received a press release from Mr. Viguerie, who threatens, "It's Rudy or the G.O.P. We're in a political version of 'The Survivor,' and both cannot survive politically":

"If the Republican Party nominates Rudy Giuliani as its candidate for either president or vice president, I will personally work to defeat the GOP ticket in 2008," says Richard A. Viguerie, author of Conservatives Betrayed: How George W. Bush and Other Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause.

"Rudy Giuliani is wrong on all of the social issues, is wrong on the Second Amendment, and is pretty much a blank slate on all other issues of importance to conservatives," Viguerie adds. "If the Republican Party nominates him, it is saying to the American people that it has lost all purpose except the raw political desire to hold power. It will be time to put the GOP out of its misery."

There are some other juicy bits as well, like where RV advises "conservatives" (read: wingers) to withhold support from any of the current batch of G.O.P. presidential candidates. The frontrunners are "unworthy of conservative support," Viguerie says, and the "truly conservative" contenders don't stand a chance of getting nominated.

Of course, Viguerie does have a book to sell, so he's been issuing statements rather freely these days. But in throwing down this gauntlet, Viguerie could find himself in the position of having called a referendum on the state of the religious right. If the G.O.P. nominates Giuliani, will they throw Viguerie a bone to keep him in the fold, as they did with Buchanan in 1996? (That bone: Buchanan campaign honcho Phyllis Schlafly got to write the Republican platform. Didn't really get Dole very far.)

--Adele M. Stan

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