I caught up with Rudy Giuliani in Iowa just after his surprise endorsement by Pat Robertson.
The other big news of the day was the indictment of Rudy’s former business partner, New York City police commissioner, and ill-fated nominee to head the Department of Homeland Security, Bernard Kerik.
Which of these two faces from the rogues’ gallery of Republican politics would have the biggest impact on the man campaigning for President of 9/11?
The televangelist who agreed with Jerry Falwell two days after 9/11 that the whole thing was God’s punishment for a culture that tolerates gays, lesbians, feminism, abortion, and liberal judges?
Or the corrupt crony charged with tax evasion and taking illegal loans from a mob-connected construction firm, who used an apartment donated to the Ground Zero recovery effort to carry on his extramarital affairs?
From Iowa, the Robertson endorsement looked like a flash in the pan. I asked Ann Jorgensen, the northeast Iowa chair of the Giuliani campaign, if it would help her candidate with social conservatives. She rolled her eyes. “Probably not,” she said.
The Christian Right, as everyone in Iowa knows, is split among Romney, Thompson, and Huckabee. Anyone But Giuliani is the unofficial slogan of a group of Iowans who signed the “conservative Declaration of Independence” started by a former Christian Coalition field director in Michigan, Tom McMillin. “As conservatives in Iowa learn that Giuliani supports government-funded abortion, partial-birth abortion, homosexual marriage, and gun registration,” McMillin writes on his website, “they quickly agree that we need this Declaration of Independence.”
Kerik, on the other hand, could have a lasting effect on Giuliani. He was, after all, a close friend. He named Rudy the godfather of two of his children, and Rudy named a jail after him. (The current mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, peeled Kerik’s name off the jail after the indictment.) Kerik’s trial will likely take place during the peak of the general election campaign, featuring testimony from Giuliani aides. And the scandal has a juicy angle, with rightwing publisher Judith Regan recounting her trysts at the Ground Zero apartment.
At the very least, the Kerik news didn’t exactly burnish the campaign’s central theme in Iowa: that Giuliani is a great manager and tough on crime.
But it did shed some light on the candidate’s theatrics.
Looking slightly harried, with a forced grin on his face, a short, stocky Giuliani strode into a large common room on the University of Northern Iowa campus in Cedar Falls to modest applause. He quickly introduced two friends and former colleagues, the ex-U.S. attorneys from Chicago and Los Angeles, Dan Webb and Rob Bonner. They could attest to his record as a crime-fighting prosecutor, he said.
He began his stump speech. “When I ran for mayor of New York City, I knew everything wrong with it and what I had to do to fix it and I did,” he declared, with trademark modesty. He raced through a list of his accomplishments as mayor: reducing crime, cutting taxes, getting people off welfare. Then he segued into a long-winded discussion of immigration and tax policy. The audience—a mix of about 150 students and Cedar Falls residents—seemed half asleep.
“I’m going to make a commitment to you,” Giuliani told them, fishing what looked like a laminated business card out of his pocket. “It’s the second of my twelve commitments. We have all twelve commitments written down here.” He held the card up, looking a little sheepish but pressing ahead with the shtick. “Can you read that? I can’t.” He put the card away. Promise number two, it turned out, was “that I will end illegal immigration.” Someone in the audience gave a single clap, then stopped.
Clearly, this was not going to be the most exciting lecture on campus that day.
“There’s no gain to America having illegal immigration. It hurts everything and everyone,” Giuliani said. Even he didn’t sound very interested. He took a swipe at Clinton for her position on driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. “Hillary,” he said, recycling an old line, was for the idea of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants before she was against it. “She sounds like John Kerry.”
Actually, it was Giuliani who was starting to sound like John Kerry, with his long, dull dissertation on immigration policy. It was ID cards ad nauseum. “Let’s say you have 1,000 people coming across the border,” he said. Four are criminals, or terrorists, or something. “We have to teach those other 996 people that there is a good way to do it—you can get a card, come in and work legally, above ground, then if you want to become citizens at the end of the road you’re going to have to read English, speak English, write English. . . .”
Blah, blah, blah.
Then, more horn tooting about what a great technocrat he is. Where is the passion? Where is the comedy? Where is Alan Keyes?
The problem for Giuliani is not just his socially moderate record, although driving into Iowa from Wisconsin, past pro-life billboard after pro-life billboard, you can see the challenge facing the Republican frontrunner: “Abortion: In Your Heart You Know It’s Wrong,” “Vote and Pray to End Abortion,” “Your Mother Chose Life, Will You?” A bigger problem is that it’s unclear what, besides his own brazen careerism, Giuliani stands for. For all the talk about “leadership,” he comes across as lacking principles or conviction.
When I asked him why a social conservative should vote for him, he repeated, verbatim, Robertson’s assurance that he would appoint “strict constructionist judges”—code for overturning Roe v. Wade. Never mind his outspoken support for public funding for abortion when he was running for mayor. Likewise, he has changed his tune on gun control. As mayor of New York, he was very much in favor of it. Recently, in a speech to the Federalist Society, he praised a federal appeals court decision overturning a gun control law.
But the biggest problem of all is that the man is just plain lousy at retail politics. Unlike Mike Huckabee, who has been putting on a surge in Iowa as the caucuses near, drawing mobs of fans yelling “We like Mike!” and thrilling voters with his wit and charm, Rudy, in a town meeting, sounds phony and forced.
“There are four reasons the economy is in trouble,” he told the crowd in Cedar Falls. “Overspending by the government, overtaxing by the government, and over-regulating by the government, and over-suing by everybody.” Invoking his idol, Ronald Reagan, he explained his fixes: cutting the federal workforce. “You’ve heard about right-sizing? Where one person can now do the job of three?” he said. “To all civilian agencies I’d say, ‘Go find me reductions of 5 to 10 percent.’ ” That, plus another capital gains tax cut and tort reform, will bring America back, he declared.
A student in the audience pressed Giuliani on his claims: “Lowering taxes sounds great,” he said, “but how do we overcome a trillion-dollar deficit and pay for wars in the Middle East?”
“When we lower capital gains taxes, we produce more revenue,” Giuliani said.
On health care, he took a requisite swipe at Michael Moore that didn’t quite connect. (“If Michael Moore wants to go to Cuba, fine. Go there. Somehow when I had prostate cancer, I didn’t think of Cuba as the place to go.”) But the description of his pay-as-you-go plan sounded like a Michael Moore caricature of Republican policy. “If you have to pay a $1,000 deductible, that won’t break the bank,” he said. “Or if it does, pick another plan.”
During the question-and-answer session, a teacher, Nikki Johnson, asked what Giuliani would say to her students who don’t vote because they are disillusioned. Rudy clapped his hands loudly five times and shouted, “Wake up! Look at America! You live in the greatest country on Earth!”
The students I spoke with after the event did not seem particularly inspired.
“I had questions related to cutting the jobs,” said Christopher Welch, a senior in Nikki Johnson’s public speaking class. “If it only takes one person to do three jobs, what do the other people do?” Welch also wasn’t satisfied with Rudy’s foreign policy program. “People do care about the war, how overstretched our military is,” he said. A classmate of Welch’s concurred. “I didn’t really understand what his plan on Iraq was. Everyone wants to see the war end.” (Giuliani didn’t talk about the war at all, except when asked how he would fund it.)
I stopped William R. Beyer, a member of Students for Rudy at UNI, who was carrying a flagpole out of the room after the event.
What did he like about Giuliani?
He said his most important issues are “defense, safety, and the economy,” and described himself as socially moderate: “I’m pro-gay marriage but pro-life,” he said. He considers Giuliani the “logical candidate” in the Republican field. “He can relate to youth the most, coming from New York, which is obviously a very diverse city.”
Giuliani’s supporters in Iowa appear to be the anti-Christian Right. People like Ann Jorgensen, who told me “you need to attract voters who have become disillusioned with the party. That’s the reason I’m involved.” She added, “I’m more of a moderate Republican.”
Broadening the party’s appeal is a key issue for Jorgensen: “We have to have someone who can get elected.”
That argument has real resonance for Republicans this year. And, as Chris Dorsey of the political website IowaPolitics.com points out, social conservatives don’t own the whole party.
“Wasn’t Gary Bauer a real strong social conservative?” says Dorsey. “How did he come out? And who was another one? Pat Robertson himself.”
The Republicans are just desperate enough that electability might trump ideology this year.
“One Republican insider said to me, ‘You may see a different caucus from the past. You may see a caucus where people say we need to throw our support behind a national frontrunner,’ ” says Dorsey.
Rudy is way ahead in national polls—around 30 percent, with his closest rivals in the teens. And he is also closing in on Mitt Romney in the money race. He has managed to raise $47 million to Romney’s $62 million. But unlike Romney, who has put $17 million of his own money into his campaign, Giuliani hasn’t reached into his own pocket. And he has the most cash on hand of any Republican candidate.
The oil and gas industry has given Giuliani $545,058—way more money than any other candidate, Republican or Democrat. He’s a close second to Hillary Clinton among securities and investment firms, with $4.5 million to her $4.7 million. And he is the big winner of tobacco money, as well as casinos and gambling and hedge funds.
Still, if the Republicans’ big hope is Giuliani, they’d better hope for a campaign that’s heavy on TV ads and very, very light on pressing the flesh.
The Giuliani campaign isn’t really trying to win Iowa. From November 2004 to mid-November 2007, Rudy made fourteen visits to Iowa, compared with thirty-five for Romney and twenty-three for Huckabee. And while Romney and Huckabee are scouring the state, making stops in every tiny hamlet, Giuliani is making one or two stops on each short trip, mostly in the eastern part of the state.
Iowa is Romney’s to lose. He has built the biggest organization and sunk the most money in the state. If Huckabee wins in a surprise upset he may, like that other Man from Hope who came from behind, go on to win the whole thing, assuming he can raise the cash.
But it may be that winning Iowa, which Giuliani has decided not to try to do, is not necessary, since most Republican voters are still a long way from decided.
“From everything I’ve gathered in traveling all parts of the state, on the Republican side of this, there’s a cloud of uncertainty. There isn’t a feeling of being enamored of one particular candidate,” says Dorsey. That makes the Republican race much more interesting than the Democratic side. “When you hear people talking about Hillary Clinton as the presumed nominee, I’ve never heard that on the Republican side. Never,” says Dorsey.
A Republican frontrunner could still come out of nowhere, or, in Giuliani’s case, could collapse spectacularly. “I think it will be the Republicans who experience a Howard Dean moment in 2008,” Dorsey says.
If Giuliani stays on top, it’s not hard to imagine a Rudy version of the “scream” speech. Who better to script it than Judith Regan and Bernard Kerik?
Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive.