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Too-Straight-Talk Express

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Maybe. But it’s serious issues that are tying Giuliani in the worst knots. Running for mayor, he arrived at a carefully calibrated pro-choice stance only after much public agonizing. Once he picked a side, though, he stuck with it. Now, like all candidates post-Kerry, Giuliani lives in mortal fear of being labeled a flip-flopper. So he’s trying to have it both ways: emphasizing that abortion remains a constitutional right, saying he still supports federal financing, while—wink, nod—adding that he’d appoint judges like Antonin Scalia. “It’s disingenuous,” says Fran Reiter, who played a key role in both of Giuliani’s winning mayoral campaigns. “My sense is he’s not comfortable with a lot of what’s coming out of his mouth. He’s all over the place.”

Giuliani’s presidential camp is more worried about his appalling baloney-slicing on guns, especially when it comes to the Republican primaries. “Gun owners, those folks actually vote,” a Rudy operative says. “They don’t care about the sophisticated urbanite explanation of ‘Well, crime and guns …’ That’s going to be a problem. Rudy’s been saying, ‘We’ll let cities and whomever decide to restrict guns however they want to.’ That’s a nightmare for [NRA leader] Chris Cox and his people.”

Giuliani’s candidacy is founded in his image as September 11 hero. I’ve always believed his stature has as much to do with the public’s hunger for something uplifting to emerge from the tragedy as it does with Giuliani’s actions. Regardless, his emotional bond with voters remains real and strong. It may even be enough to turn all the messy social issues into an irrelevant sideshow. But Giuliani’s squirming on anything other than crime or September 11 threatens to erode his aura as a resolute leader. And just when you think he’s matured, the goofball Giuliani resurfaces, mooning over Judi on 20/20. As mayor, Giuliani’s glorious eccentricities, both politically and personally, fit the city and the times. It’s hard to see how those traits are what the country needs in a 21st-century president.

E-mail: chris_smith@nymag.com.


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