Introducing Imperial Rudy

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

The heartland is getting to know Rudolph Giuliani. The early reviews are in, and America’s Mayor has some softening up to do:

“His five-SUV caravan, security guards and staged media events for his national press entourage bring to mind other big-state politicians – like then-California Gov. Pete Wilson – who misfired in Iowa because they didn’t understand the need to do one-on-one, grassroots work.”

– 5/9/06, David Yepsen of The Des-Moines Register, complaining about Mr. Giuliani’s imperial style during his first campaign-like swing through the state last week.

“If this is how Rudolph Giuliani is going to conduct himself, then people who hope he’s a higher class of politician, a more capable public servant than usual, more honest and genuine – the real deal, so to speak – are in for a gross disappointment. Sadly, he’s no better than the rest.”

– 3/24/06, Neil Westergaard of the Denver Business Journal, complaining that Mr. Giuliani repeatedly postponed an interview and nixed certain questions provided in advance.

I can already picture Mr. Giuliani’s loyal communications director, Sunny Mindel, fuming about these two snippets plucked from the thousands of complimentary words recently written about her boss. But these two observations – one from a reporter who observed Mr. Giuliani and the other from an editor who merely hoped to interview him – do encapsulate the impressions Mr. Giuliani can so easily create.

Mr. Giuliani became a rock star in his early days as mayor for being tough on crime, then fell out of favor for being tough on people he didn’t like and ultimately won worldwide awe for his unmatchable mastery of sensitivity and leadership following the September 11th attacks. But just because Mr. Giuliani will be remembered as an amazing mayor doesn’t mean he’ll be considered an amazing candidate for higher office. In fact, there’s precedent for suspecting he might like the fantasy of another elected office a lot more than the reality.

Mr. Giuliani was never fully absorbed in his 2000 run for U.S. Senate – which was a lot like a national race because Mr. Giuliani was running against the first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton. She was a carpetbagger and he was the sitting New York City mayor, providing Mr. Giuliani with a tremendous initial advantage. But as his role as candidate began to overtake his job as mayor, Mr. Giuliani’s trademark tenacity gave way to an unanticipated ambivalence.

Even as Mrs. Clinton worked hard to win over skeptical upstate voters with an extended “Listening Tour,” Mr. Giuliani seemed sincerely allergic to spending a night outside his five boroughs. His distaste for the race became crystal clear when he skipped an important campaign event upstate to attend a Yankees game in the Bronx.

The highly anticipated match-up against Mrs. Clinton never materialized because Mr. Giuliani dropped out of the Senate race after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Even though we’ll never know what would have happened if Mr. Giuliani had been on the ballot, he has repeatedly speculated that Mrs. Clinton would have beaten him. Perhaps fate will intervene and pit the two New Yorkers against each other after all in 2008.

Mrs. Clinton’s presidential intentions are quite clear already, but Mr. Giuliani can only commit to presidential ambitions. His plans are up in the air because he doesn’t want to run if can’t win. And unlike the countless other Republican hopefuls – career politicians with little to lose and a lot of prestige to gain by becoming genuine presidential contenders – Mr. Giuliani has a hugely successful and phenomenally lucrative job at stake.

If Mr. Giuliani doesn’t run, we’ll always think he had a shot. If he runs and loses, his mystique as America’s mayor loses the edge. Mr. Giuliani might just take a hint from his old friend Mario Cuomo, who proved that being considered presidential material is a lot more rewarding than winding up a presidential loser.

Reporters coast-to-coast are in for a treat if Mr. Giuliani does run. There is no way to predict what he’ll say, and no way to stop him when he’s on a roll. As mayor, Mr. Giuliani frequently summoned City Hall reporters to press conferences just to vent about something or someone annoying him. There was simply no way to know what would happen at a routine Giuliani Q&A – he might just announce he was getting divorced.

Strike “might” – he did.

Mr. Giuliani is back on the pre-presidential campaign trail this week in the electorally important states of Michigan and Ohio. These states are no strangers to presidential hopefuls, but Mr. Giuliani has the luxury of attracting press attention simply by showing his face. Most wannabes on presidential exploratory missions have to fawn all over local reporters to win attention.

Mr. Yepsen, the influential political reporter for the Des Moines Register, is among those opinion shaping observers who like to see visitors make an effort. “Out here on the prairie, campaigns are more than money and media. They’re about key people. George Pataki and Mitt Romney get it. Giuliani doesn’t,” Mr. Yepsen wrote.

Governor Pataki and Governor Romney of Massachusetts are of course thrilled their longshot names appear alongside a genuine contender like Mr. Giuliani. But longshots have a tendency to try a little harder, and all candidates for president do have to try in order to prove they care. We don’t know at this point whether Mr, Giuliani doesn’t care about being a national candidate or simply can’t force himself to try.

There is, however, some proof Mr. Giuliani might compromise his stubborn ways. He missed Yankees opening day for the first time in more than a dozen years last month. Then again, he wasn’t exactly out glad-handing voters. Mr. Giuliani was raking in cash overseas.

Mr. Goldin’s column appears regularly.

The New York Sun

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