Orlando — The Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is an attempt to recreate one of Italy’s most charming coastal cities in the flat, featureless landscape of central Florida. It was built by Universal Studios, whose executives insist on a theme for every major undertaking, and word is that back in the late 1990s, film director Steven Spielberg, a Universal creative consultant, had just returned from a vacation in the real Portofino when he suggested the company use the city as a model for the new resort hotel.
Universal architects and designers traveled to Italy and took thousands of pictures of Portofino, then came back to Orlando to begin their work. They created a large, semi-circular artificial harbor ringed by faux-18th-century Italian buildings. They put boats in the harbor and even parked a Vespa — bolted into cement — at the water’s edge to make the scene a bit more realistic. They built the hotel behind the waterfront buildings, with a Piazza Centrale and a narrow winding indoor street, illuminated by little lights strung across an artificial sky. They built meeting rooms with names like Vicenza, Bernini, and Donatello. And they planned entertainment; on this evening, the hotel’s program includes the nightly Musica Della Notte, by the harbor, with a tenor singing “Nessun Dorma” from a balcony overlooking the water. “Thank you so much, ladies and gentlemen,” he says as the crowd begins to applaud. “Ciao! Buona sera!”
It is here, in the Tuscan Ballroom, that Rudy Giuliani has come to address supporters in the wake of his resounding defeat in the Florida primary. And it is probably wildly inappropriate to say, but in this setting and under these circumstances, it is hard not to think of Fabrizio Quattrocchi, the courageous Genoan who, taken hostage by Islamic terrorists in Iraq in 2004 cried out, “Now I will show you how an Italian dies!” just before he was shot. On a small stage in front of a large RUDY sign, Giuliani, the mayor who saved New York City, the most accomplished executive of his generation, and the man who conducted himself with true heroism on September 11, has come to face political death, with dignity, in Universal Studios’ Orlando-style approximation of Italy.
When he takes to the stage, shortly after John McCain has been declared the winner, Giuliani doesn’t precisely say he is dropping out of the race. But it’s obvious to everyone, and he begins to talk about his presidential run in the past tense. “We ran a campaign that was uplifting,” Giuliani tells the crowd. “The responsibility of leadership doesn’t end with a single campaign, it goes on and you continue to fight for it.”
“I’m proud that we chose to stay positive and to run a campaign of ideas in an era of personal attacks, negative ads, and cynical spin,” Giuliani adds. “You don’t always win, but you can always try to do it right, and you did.”
Those are the words of a man who is out of the race. It’s something everybody saw coming — how could they not? — but no one wants to accept. “I guess I’m praying for — for something,” a woman named Debbie, who drove in from Palm Coast, tells me. She’s originally from Seaford, Long Island, and helped run Giuliani’s campaign in Flagler County. “We really don’t know until all the votes are counted,” she says, not believing her own words.
Nearby, five friends — four are ex-New Yorkers — are standing around a table drinking wine. “To Rudy,” one of them says, raising a glass. On the other side of the room, a lifelong Republican named Mary Jane shows me the two-sided sign she made to take to her polling place this morning. DO YOUR DUTY — VOTE FOR RUDY reads one side, which Mary Jane flips over to reveal the other: OMIT MITT. She has been going to Giuliani events, urging him to fix the “notch years” problem with Social Security, in which some people born between 1917 and 1921 receive slightly lower benefits then other seniors. (That includes Mary Jane, who will turn 89 in a couple of months.) I ask her if she supports Giuliani for any other reasons beyond Social Security.
“You’re not going to hate me?” she asks.
“No,” I say.
“Pro-choice,” she confides.
Giuliani’s staff is sad, but everyone seems pretty composed. That is in part because they all knew it was coming and have already begun to adjust. “The campaign was so much happier today,” says one reporter who has traveled with Team Giuliani. “Yesterday was like a funeral, but today made me think of the five stages of grief — stage four is depression, but stage five is acceptance.” Earlier in the day, the campaign sent information to reporters for the flight to California for Wednesday night’s Republican debate. Nobody believes Giuliani will take part; the joke going around is that he just wanted to give Jon Voight a ride home.
Speaking of Voight, the actor-turned-Giuliani-endorser is one of the first in the Giuliani camp to enter the Tuscan Ballroom and one of the last to leave. I ask him why Giuliani’s candidacy ended this way. “Who knows why?” he says, looking genuinely baffled. “For me, it was a great honor to be standing with this man during the week and a half that I’ve been here.”
Giuliani insiders don’t know a lot more than Voight. Clearly the campaign’s guiding strategy was wrong, they concede, and Giuliani fell by the wayside while the other candidates were competing in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, and South Carolina. But they vigorously reject the notion that there was something wrong with Giuliani himself, something that made him less popular the more he stayed around a place. In any event, they’ll all be looking for jobs now, and it’s not clear that many of them would want to work for another candidate, even if the opportunity arose.
And then there is Giuliani himself. Tonight, he gives no hint of what is next, although it’s expected he’ll formally drop out and endorse McCain. After that, everyone believes he’ll return to Rudy, Inc., better known as Giuliani Partners, and resume his life of high-priced consulting and speechmaking. But first, he has to spend one more night here — in Portofino.