Rudy Giuliani, speaking about terrorism and the Iraq war, said last week, “It is something I understand better than anyone else running for president.” How long will John McCain—a real-life war hero down seventeen points in the polls—stand for such bluster, considering the lengths Giuliani went to to stay out of Vietnam?
He won’t mention Rudy’s military history—yet. It’s too early in the primary cycle to go negative. But opponents know this is the warrior-mayor’s biggest weakness. “If Giuliani is the nominee, we’re going to hammer him with ads, and it’s going to be easy because the issue is simple: He’s a draft dodger,” says Jon Soltz, an Iraq vet who served as a captain and runs VoteVets.org, a left-leaning version of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. “Giuliani gets a zero-zero,” says General Wesley Clark, an adviser to the group. “He wasn’t willing to risk his life for his country, and he has no relevant experience that’s in any way useful to be commander-in-chief. He hosted the U.N. and had a large police force.”
To recap: After receiving several deferments as a student, Giuliani applied for an occupational deferment as a law clerk, but his application was rejected. Giuliani appealed their decision, and asked the federal judge he was clerking for to petition the draft board for him. Which the judge did. When his deferment expired in 1970, Giuliani became susceptible to the draft. He received a high number and was never called. Giuliani “has made it clear that if he had been called up, he would have served,” says Katie Levinson, Giuliani’s spokesperson. He was opposed to the war in Vietnam on “strategic and tactical” grounds, she says. Asked to clarify what tactics Giuliani opposed, Levinson declined to offer specifics. “Voters will choose the next commander-in-chief based on their whole record, and we believe the mayor’s record speaks for itself.”