07.13.11

Giuliani Tests the Waters in New Hampshire

The former New York mayor is considering another run for the presidency, but which Rudy will show up? Matt Latimer on why Giuliani needs to do the opposite of what he did in 2008—go back to being a tough guy.

Rudy Giuliani is on his way to New Hampshire to “test the waters,” as the tired phrase goes, for another presidential bid. One cannot rule out the possibility that he is serious.

Where last we left off, the former mayor hatched a scheme to win the 2008 Republican nomination by losing Iowa, then losing New Hampshire, then losing Nevada, then losing Michigan, then losing South Carolina, until distraught Florida retirees became tired of seeing him kicked around and handed him the keys to the White House. (Does the White House actually have keys, by the way? If so, who gets them?) The reviews for the candidate who once led in nearly every major poll by huge margins were savage: “The worst campaign of a leading candidate that I can remember” … “the most stupid presidential campaign in history” … “wacko strategy” ... “bland, lifeless, sexless and entirely fatuous.” Oh, sorry, that last one was for Larry Crowne, so profound a display of ego and arrogance that I soon expect Tom Hanks to seek public office. Perhaps he can hire some of Giuliani’s former advisers. One trusts he won’t be using many of them again.

Personally, I hope Giuliani does run for president, if only to enliven a rather dull summer. To paraphrase Bobby Kennedy, I look at the people running already and say, “Why not?” The best thing about America is that it is the nation of second chances. Rudy has guts and a strong record as a reform-minded prosecutor and mayor. He also has a no-fail strategy for 2012: to do the precise opposite of everything he did the last time around.

In case he needs some reminders:

No. 1: No More Mr. Nice Guy. We all know Rudy can cudgel people—whether mob bosses, bad cops, parking-meter violators, or even his own supporters. “Shut up! Shut up!” he yelled at a rally in 1989. “There is something deranged about you,” he told some hapless caller on the radio. And that was only over a ferret. Imagine what tangles he could get into over, say, Social Security reform or tax cuts. Rudy Giuliani was once a tough guy who almost singlehandedly transformed America’s largest city into a livable, bearable metropolis. Where was that guy in 2008?

Instead we got someone who never said a tough word against anybody except terrorists—and who took frequent opportunities to endorse other candidates in the race who were running against him. The Rudy Giuliani of old wouldn’t have flattered John McCain until the Arizonan flashed that creepy grin of his—a feat all in itself. Rudy would have poked at McCain until he was in tears and then kept it up until the senator thanked him for the privilege of being humiliated by the best. The old Rudy wouldn’t have gotten all misty-eyed about shaking hands with his political opponents. If he ran into Barack Obama or John Edwards backstage, he would have placed them under citizen’s arrest.   Republicans are looking for someone who can take on not only Obama but America’s enemies and massive fiscal problems. Stop trying to be Captain Kangaroo.

No. 2: Embrace your strangeness. There was a time when even Giuliani’s own campaign advisers fretted about his “weirdness factor.” And, really, where does one begin? Hizzoner favored dressing in drag on more than one occasion, including once when he was kissed by Donald Trump. “Oh, you dirty boy!” Rudy said as Trump fondled his “breasts.” “I thought you were a gentleman.” Those, by the way, are the weirdest sentences I’ve ever typed. How much America has missed by not having these two in the race. There’s more ... Making the case for his candidacy, he offered this puzzler: “We don't all agree on everything. I don't agree with myself on everything.”

And let’s not forget the phone calls. The most notorious came during a speech to an already distrustful NRA, when Rudy stopped in the middle of his presentation to engage in a rather mundane conversation with his wife. The phone-call situation became continually stranger, with The Wall Street Journal chronicling as many as 40 such interruptions. In another incident, Giuliani answered his cell in the middle of a question from an audience member, left the room, and never came back. Was it a smart thing to do? Of course not. But the Rudy Giuliani of yesteryear never apologized for being odd. And the phone situation only grew weirder the more he explained it. At one point, he justified the calls with a markedly unhelpful digression about the movie Dr. Strangelove. Undoubtedly, this left voters wondering if a President Giuliani would interrupt an address to the nation on the invasion of Iraq whenever the missus called. “Hi, honey … Not much … How about you?”

Rudy 2012 likely would be another trip through Bizarre Town, but who cares?

Rudy 2012 likely would be another trip through Bizarre Town, but who cares? New York City didn’t have its historic turnaround because Rudy Giuliani colored within the lines or his kids talked to him. Embrace the weirdness and move on. Maybe the candidate can even dance to Patsy Cline’s "Crazy" and declare it his campaign theme song, like some other fella who loved offering “F-you”s to the press.

No. 3: Maybe tone down the 9/11 references a tad. The September 11 attacks obviously were a searing moment in the mayor’s life. Nothing can detract from the sense of calm and confidence he offered to a grieving nation on that terrible day. He was our comforter and conscience. It was a perfect moment, and perfect moments stand on their own. Unfortunately, that’s not how it was in 2008.

Giuliani offended New York’s police officers, firefighters, and other first responders by claiming that he "was at Ground Zero as often, if not more, than most workers." He was accused of trying to fundraise off the tragedy with a “$9.11 for Rudy” campaign. Dismissing his loss in Iowa, he said, “None of this worries me—September 11, there were times I was worried.” Even his phone calls from his wife were attributed to … you guessed it … 9/11. The only intentionally funny thing the vice president has ever said was his summation of a Giuliani candidacy: “There's only three things he mentions in a sentence—a noun, a verb, and 9/11.” The last thing Joe Biden needs is to get something right.