Politics & Policy

Rudy the Rude

Giuliani was mean enough to be New York's greatest mayor. Is he too mean to be president?

As a presidential candidate, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is for real. Despite his unorthodox Republicanism — his support for legal abortion, his embrace of gun-control, and his unwillingness to act against court-imposed same-sex marriages — Giuliani now leads in several polls for the GOP nomination.

The common wisdom is that most Republican voters know nothing of Rudy’s social liberalism, and so his support will dwindle as they learn more. But this may prove wrong. Knowledgeable folks on the Right, disheartened by a presidential field that lacks viable, trustworthy conservatives, are talking themselves into supporting the man who earned the title of “America’s Mayor” after his performance on 9/11.

The argument is easier to make than it might seem at first. Rudy’s transgressions, conservatives can tell themselves, are smaller than they appear, particularly considering the shortcomings of the other candidates. Even if he is pro-choice on abortion, Giuliani has said that he would appoint the same kind of justices as President Bush has — the John Roberts variety, likely to overturn Roe v. Wade. And yes, Rudy supported gun control in the Five Boroughs, but as he told Sean Hannity on February 5, it was just a practical matter for a man inheriting a lawless city — some gun-control was “necessary with the 2,000 murders or so that we were looking at [annually in New York City]…”

The Other Giuliani

Add in that Rudy is tough on terror and could be more electable than the rest, and the conservative case for him is actually quite substantial.

But before they back the most liberal man in the field, conservatives should be aware that Rudy’s failure to toe the party line is only one of his liabilities, and it doesn’t necessarily make him electable. If Giuliani’s stances on babies, guns, and gay marriage do not sink him in the Republican primaries, he will probably suffer in a general election campaign from the fact that there is so much evidence in the public record that he is a total jerk.

Yes, that’s right. Most Americans love Rudy, but it’s not just because they don’t know where he stands on issues. It’s also because they know nothing of his pre-9/11 self, and the more they learn, the less attractive they will probably find him.

By September 10, 2001, New Yorkers were weary of their mayor and longed for an end to his administration, even as they enjoyed the dog-poop-less sidewalks, the safe subway platforms, the squeegee-free street corners and the low murder rate they all knew he had brought about. It understates the case to say that a massive terror attack saved Giuliani’s political career — it would be more accurate to say that nothing short of 9/11 could have saved it.

Few of those admiring America’s Mayor from afar remember the real mayor who became so jealous of the media attention given to Bill Bratton — his own police commissioner and the brains behind much of his crime-reduction strategy — that he drove the man out of office. Iowa voters have never heard about the Rudy who could walk into a town-hall meeting in The Bronx and shout down a boorish but pitiful female questioner (she rambled on that she had been unjustly evicted, as Esquire Magazine described it in 1997) with an over-the-top response like, “I’m glad we didn’t help you.”

Those who lived in New York prior to 9/11, myself included, remember an excellent mayor who was obsessed with getting credit for everything and making his critics pay; an effective mayor who called rivals “jerks” and “morons;” a decisive mayor who knowingly set out to drag his 14- and 10-year-old children through one of the nastiest and most publicized divorces in history. They remember a ruthless mayor who responded to the accidental police shooting of Patrick Dorismond in 2000 not just by defending the cops (as a good mayor must), but by illegally releasing the victim’s sealed juvenile rap sheet and declaring on television that the deceased “isn’t an altar boy.”

The scorned Bratton would later tell The New York Observer, “He’s an a**hole, but a successful a**hole.” And perhaps Rudy was such a great mayor precisely because he is such a jerk. Maybe a hard, mean man was what New York City needed after decades of feel-good, politically correct thinking had made the place unlivable and nearly ungovernable. “If you tell me off, I tell you off — that’s my personality,” Rudy once said on his weekly radio show. But as successful as this approach was in New York, it’s hard for a known a**hole to win a presidential election.

Many politicians are jerks, but most of them know to keep it private. In the bars on Capitol Hill, stories of congressmen’s and senators’ temper tantrums circulate amid whispers and chuckles — rarely do they appear in print. Not so for Rudy Giuliani, who as mayor was unashamed to do his own dirty work in public, and at times seemed to relish acting as his own attack dog.

New Yorkers who remember 9/11 also remember 5/11 of that same year — the Friday of Mother’s Day weekend — when Giuliani sent his celebrity divorce lawyer to court to declare that his wife, Donna Hanover, was “an uncaring mother” who was “squealing like a stuck pig” and “just wants to get her name in the newspapers.” Almost exactly one year earlier, Giuliani had set the tone for this bitter divorce by announcing his separation from Hanover in a press conference without bothering to inform her in advance. And in case that didn’t send a strong enough message, he also used the occasion to show off his “very good friend” and mistress Judy Nathan to the New York media. “I’m going to need her more now than maybe I did before,” he said, referring to his diagnosis of prostate cancer.

Hizzonner would later complain of the media coverage, protesting that he was entitled to his private life — except that he had never bothered to keep it private, not even for the sake of his kids. There could be no quiet divorce for Rudy Giuliani. He was mean enough to save New York City from becoming Detroit on the Hudson, but he was too mean to control his temper, even when it was in his best interest. What kind of man humiliates his children by escalating a private family controversy this way, even leaking — in a bid to gain sympathy — such lurid details as the impotence caused by his prostate treatments? What kind of president would such a man be?

If Giuliani can overcome the social-liberal label and nab the Republican nomination, it is no stretch to imagine the Democrats and the press tearing him apart over his cruel and at times bizarre past public behavior. Voters outside the City, who only know the moderate Republican who saved America on 9/11, may soon learn about the rude and unelectable forgotten Rudy of 9/10. The result could be a President Clinton or Obama in the White House.

– David Freddoso is a political reporter for Evans and Novak Inside Report.

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