There were plenty of dubious episodes on Kerik’s public record, including his order for 30 miniature commemorative busts of himself as commissioner. And we now know that Kerik’s sixteen months as police commissioner were busy with much more than crime-fighting: apartment renovations paid for by a contracting firm that was trying to win city business, the use of city detectives to do research for Kerik’s autobiography, and an affair with the publisher of that book, Judith Regan. Yet Giuliani stayed loyal to Kerik, and has only recently, and mildly, distanced himself from the disgraced commissioner. But there are some things from his New York past that Giuliani can’t shed. The relationship, still only partly understood, is an especially important marker in understanding Giuliani’s character. Maybe standing by Kerik so long is simply part of his code of loyalty. Leave it to Kerik, now under federal indictment, to give that bargain an especially sinister edge: In his Regan-edited book, Kerik wrote that he felt like a made man in Rudy’s mafia.
Gosh, there are more Republicans on this side of the room than there are in all of New York City,” Giuliani said at a campaign stop in South Carolina. “So I am really comfortable here.” In the reddest states, he uses the city as his foil. “I got elected and reelected honestly not because the people of New York City agreed with my ideas,” he says Down South. “They didn’t. They agreed with my results. You agree with my ideas.”
He’s painting himself as a citizen of picket-fence America. Long gone is David Garth, the prototypical New York adman who steered Giuliani’s first victorious mayoral campaign. Now Giuliani’s image is spun by consultants with vast experience in states that are very much not New York. The leader of his creative team is Heath Thompson, a Dallas-based consultant whose most famous TV ad ran in last year’s Senate race in Tennessee: The come-hither blonde whispering breathy invitations to black Democratic candidate Harold Ford. Scott Howell, another important media operative, has won U.S. Senate races in Texas, Georgia, and Missouri and learned his trade from Lee Atwater.
They’re trying to pull off the nifty trick of packaging Giuliani, the Yankees mascot, as being from New York but not of New York. Giuliani did indeed arrive at City Hall as a refreshing outsider to the city’s dominant political culture—he was a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic town, a prosecutor not a career politician, an outer-borough Roman Catholic in a Manhattan-centric, agnostic world. But that doesn’t mean he’s not a New Yorker. In fact, many of his character traits—his anger, his blind loyalty—come straight out of the tribal culture of New York’s old neighborhoods. On the presidential-campaign trail, Giuliani defines every issue and problem facing the country—not to mention his political competitors—as “enemies.” He sees an America besieged—by illegal aliens, by liberals, but most of all by Islamic terrorists. “We are the strongest country on earth, but we need a very, very strong military to protect us and to defend us,” he says in Florida. “And if I’m elected president of the United States, I will rebuild our military! I will make up for the damage that Bill Clinton did to our military!” Never mind what George Bush has done to our military.
Just then, there’s a murmur in the crowd. People are pointing at the sky behind the stage. An eagle is hovering against a backdrop of ominous gray clouds. “Oh, look at that!” Giuliani says. “I think he liked that message about a strong military!”
When the applause fades, he picks up where he left off. “We also have to be concerned about some specifics, like what do we do about Iran.”
“Nuke ’em!” comes a shout.
Giuliani grins. “If I’m president of the United States, it will be crystal clear we will not allow Iran to become a nuclear power. We will take whatever action is necessary to stop them! We will not take the military option off the table. We will not beg to negotiate with them. We’re gonna make them beg to negotiate with us!”
Giuliani says he wants to do for the country what he did for the city. Yet the tactics he used in New York are either inapplicable or irrelevant. Crime is down nationally, and Bill Clinton reformed federal welfare policy; lowering taxes seems extremely unlikely, especially if a recession sets in. What would certainly be transferred to the White House, though, is Giuliani’s character. He’s selling his strength of will as an indispensable trait in a tough world. But we know from eight years of firsthand experience that Giuliani’s strength would also mean degrading his enemies, a contempt for the press and Congress, a mania for secrecy, and the rewarding of personal loyalty at the expense of competence.
And instead of the NYPD, he’d be expressing his strength through the U.S. military. In the sultry Florida air, in the center of a retirement fantasia, Giuliani is suggesting he’d clean up Islamic terrorists like so many South Bronx crack dealers. He’s repeating one of his favorite phrases, that a President Giuliani would “keep us on offense” against terrorism. But it’s the way he says it that rings suddenly loud and clear. This was the man who told President Bush he wanted to personally push the button to execute Osama bin Laden. Anyone who was downtown on September 11, 2001, can empathize. But Giuliani has internalized one side of his hometown too deeply: the side that doesn’t just fight back but isn’t happy unless it’s in the middle of a brawl.
Giuliani’s well-worn anecdote about his boyhood bond with the Yankees is meant to show his determination in the face of pressure. But New Yorkers know there’s a less flattering interpretation. For most of Giuliani’s life, the Yankees have been the richest, most powerful, and usually winningest team in baseball. Yet the ultimate fan of baseball’s biggest overdog thinks he’s a brave, oppressed partisan of an underdog. Giuliani won back the city from the mongrel hordes—the descendants of Brooklyn Dodgers fans—and now he’s proposing to win back the world for America. But New York, more than anyplace, is wise to Rudy Giuliani’s game.