Politics & Policy

Mitt and Rudy: Why War Broke Out

What, me negative? It was the other guy.

By mid-day Monday, officials at both the Romney and Giuliani campaigns were tired of the questions: Was there something in the turkey and dressing? Why had Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani suddenly started pummeling each other over the Thanksgiving weekend?

Each camp blamed the other side. “There is a nastiness emerging from Rudy Giuliani’s campaign these last few days, which seems to be the result of a certain level of desperation in the face of weak showings in early state polls,” said a Romney aide. “Rudy went after us on Saturday, and we responded with full force.”

“Mitt Romney has been going after us and beating the crap out of us for months now,” said a Giuliani aide. “This weekend he threw everything but the kitchen sink, and the mayor was asked about it, and he responded.”

But how did it start? And are they both right? Each side has been keeping count of alleged offenses perpetrated by the other guy, and yesterday I asked the campaigns for their evidence.

Looking over Giuliani’s list of attacks committed by the Romney campaign, and Romney’s list of attacks committed by the Giuliani campaign, one’s first impression is that many of the perceived “attacks” are decidedly trivial. For example, the Giuliani campaign counts a statement Romney made in an interview with the Associated Press last April — “Mayor Giuliani has made a number of changes over his career, and there are places where I’ve made changes” — as an “attack” on Giuliani. For its part, the Romney campaign cites a story in Human Events last May which quoted a Giuliani aide saying the mayor is a “straight shooter” and “his positions are his positions” — a statement Human Events characterized as “perhaps a veiled shot at Romney, who has been dealing with the ‘flip-flop’ label” — as an “attack” on Romney.

Both sides have some good examples to cite, as well. But looking over the lists, it appears that Romney, the sunny and positive optimist, has been a bit more persistent and bare-knuckled in his attacks on Giuliani than Giuliani, the tough-guy veteran of rough-and-tumble New York politics, has been on Romney. That doesn’t mean the attacks were illegitimate, or false, or out of bounds; in fact, nearly all were based on at least a few facts and involved issues, like immigration and taxes and social questions, that are important to Republican voters. But it’s hard to deny that in the last two months, Romney has kept up a fairly steady stream of criticism of Giuliani, more than the other way around. Over the weekend, finally, all hell broke loose.

Nearly everywhere he has gone in recent weeks, Romney has hit Giuliani for having a “sanctuary state of mind.” Over the course of the campaign, he has often said Giuliani is unacceptable to conservatives — “He is pro-choice, and pro-gay marriage, and anti-gun, and that’s a tough combination in a Republican primary.” He has said that voters are worried about a candidate who has “been married more than once.” He has said that Giuliani “killed the line-item veto” by successfully challenging it in court. He has blamed Giuliani for “the most significant attack on the Second Amendment in the last 50 years.” He has compared Giuliani to Hillary Clinton and other Democrats.

The issue is not whether much of that is true — Giuliani is certainly pro-choice, has been married more than once, and has taken positions with which candidate Romney disagrees. But it’s the kind of campaigning that ultimately draws a strong response from its target, and that is what happened over the Thanksgiving weekend.

So now we are in a new stage of the campaign. On Fox Radio yesterday, Romney threw pretty much everything at Giuliani, saying, “I think he’s found himself having to stand up and explain why it is that we ought to make him the nominee when he’s very much like Hillary Clinton. He’s pro-choice like Hillary Clinton. He’s pro-gay civil union like Hillary Clinton. He’s pro-sanctuary cities like she is, and the record of ethical conduct, particularly with someone like Bernie Kerik in the administration, reminds us of the Hillary Clinton era.” For his part, Giuliani, during an appearance on MSNBC, said, “The fact is, Mitt is in no position to be doing that. He really is in a glass house. Everything he attacks somebody else for, he usually has a much worse record.”

Will the attacks continue, and perhaps escalate? We might know more Wednesday night, when both men will be on stage in Florida for the CNN YouTube debate. Producers would certainly like a rock-’em-sock-’em show, and it’s possible Romney and Giuliani will give it to them. But it’s also possible the candidates will decide to cool it and stay on the high road, while still making their points. What they decide could affect the tone of the campaign in its final weeks.

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