For all his appearance of fierce singlemindedness, Giuliani has a history of taking the political temperature and making adjustments. His tough-guy act conceals a surprisingly cerebral politician. “When he ran for mayor, he really prepared,” says Fred Siegel, who has advised Giuliani in the past. “And he’s preparing himself now for national politics. He’s taking notes. When he’s ready to run, he’ll have a very good sense of what he’s doing. He reads about things, he talks to people, he gets engaged in issues. He’s a lot like Clinton in that regard.”
This presidential-campaign season has given Giuliani a chance to bond more deeply with the current GOP core. Giuliani has never been a government-hater, like the ideologically motivated activists who’ve pushed the party to the right in the past two decades; indeed, the civil-service payroll was bigger after two Giuliani terms in City Hall. But even the right-wingers vouch for his credentials as a tax-cutter. “He balanced the budget in New York, so he’s got a good story to tell,” says Stephen Moore, the president of Club for Growth, the influential, staunchly conservative anti-tax pac. “And he has done himself a world of good politically by being so aggressively pro-Bush. He’s endeared himself to conservative and moderate Republicans alike by being such a good team player. I don’t agree with him on a lot of social positions myself, but for all the talk that he’s way too liberal for the party, I’m not so sure that’s the case. The party likes heroes. And he is an American hero.”
As Giuliani’s political prospects have gone national, his inner circle has stayed strikingly local. The same friends and aides who’ve been with him from his days as a federal prosecutor and a mayor—Peter Powers, Denny Young, Randy Levine, Tony Carbonetti, Sunny Mindel—either work with him at Giuliani Partners or speak with him regularly. Giuliani still talks politics with David Garth, the mysterious New York political consultant who worked on his runs for City Hall, and Ray Harding, the Liberal Party boss whose support was crucial to Giuliani’s victorious 1993 campaign. This tight orbit of New York advisers is one of the things that keeps Giuliani at a remove from the national party, even though top operatives gush about Giuliani’s allegiance to the cause. “His relations with the national party are good right now,” says a Republican political consultant. “He’s being helpful, and everybody appreciates it when they’re being helped.”
And even on social issues, Giuliani is seen as someone who can be educated. “I won’t be shocked if he decides that late-term abortion isn’t such a good idea,” says Siegel, who’s writing a book titled Prince of the City: Giuliani’s New York and the Genius of American Life. “It was never clear to me how much his abortion position was a matter of conviction and how much it was a matter of necessity. I suspect he’ll do a certain amount of repositioning; candidates always do that.”
“He’s basically very pragmatic,” Mario Cuomo says. “And he’s progressive. He’s not a Neanderthal, a primitive conservative. But look, he’s a clever human being. He can shave and draw fine distinctions if he needs to.”
Whether any of that matters in 2008 depends on whether the country is still mired in a shooting war in the Middle East and in fear of terrorism at home. Curiously, anxiety over another terrorist attack is more palpable in such unlikely targets as Macon and West Palm Beach than it is in once-and-future target New York. When Giuliani, who has made himself the physical and symbolic embodiment of September 11, comes to town, he both stokes the worries and holds out the promise of a salve. “I love his strength,” says Charlotte Harber, an actress attending a Giuliani appearance in Miami. “The politician who is willing to get his hands dirty—that’s who you want to vote for. He’s a real person. I definitely could see him as a presidential candidate.”
Giuliani, of course, is acutely aware he possesses something rare right now, a connection beyond politics, and he’s eager to nurture his new, softer image. “A lot more people got to know me after September 11, and they feel like they have a personal relationship with me,” he says. “And I think they realize I care about them.”
Message: I care. That sounds awfully presidential.
Tonight the familiar chant comes with a Cuban inflection. Giuliani takes the stage in a swank Miami hotel ballroom, once again in service of the Mel Martinez for Senate campaign. Earlier, he’d spent an hour behind a black-velvet scrim, as a slow-moving line of more than 100 people approached to pose for pictures with America’s mayor. To one side of the room, however, sits a cluster of heavyset, solemn guys in their mid-sixties, speaking in Spanish; they’ve paid big money to get into the exclusive pre-speech reception and so are entitled to be photographed with Rudy, but they keep waving off invitations to stand in front of the camera.
When Giuliani moves from the flashbulbs to the main stage for his speech, the dim lighting sets off his sharply lined mouth and sharp incisors, making his face look like a woodcut. He seems tired, this being his third speech of the day, and gives a meandering performance, serving up the required digs at Fidel Castro and warmed-over praise of industrious Cuban-Americans. “You know the promise for Cuba is unlimited,” he says. “You can see the quality of the Cuban people when they’re given a chance. So now, if you give the entire island a chance, can you imagine what they’ll achieve?” The crowd begins to murmur, bored, as Giuliani riffs on the Yankees and El Duque, but erupts in chants and applause when he finishes.
Afterward, Rudy doesn’t mingle or work the room, not here or anywhere. He shakes a few hands, and then he disappears behind yet another curtain, leaving Martinez to chat up the stragglers. Six days later, he flies to Tempe, Arizona, for the third presidential debate. The crowd here is bigger and more surreal, a swirling carnival of media-politico-celebs: Greta Van Susteren passes John McCain, who passes Jesse Jackson, who passes Judy Woodruff squatting in a corner to do her own makeup. Failed candidates and handlers from both sides circulate through the media tent before the debate, pumping out quotes for the hundreds of idle reporters.
Rudy, though, stays sequestered. He’s flown to Arizona by private plane after serving up inspirational nuggets—by satellite from New York, to people paying $300 each—to the “10th Annual Worldwide Luminary Series,” alongside such self-help hucksters as Suze Orman and the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People guy. Instead, after the debate, Giuliani’s bodyguards whisk him through crowds, ignoring shouting reporters, past the jealous gaze of pols like Henry Cisneros. Giuliani goes directly from the front row of the debate audience to a seat beside Tim Russert and Tom Brokaw in the NBC booth overlooking the theater and serves up the red-meat Bush party line. There’s grins all around once the cameras are off and the earpieces removed. “Say hello to Judith for me,” Brokaw says, slapping Giuliani firmly on the back.
Rudy moves quickly to CBS, then CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and finally back to Fox for the Hannity & Colmes show, where his rhetoric is distinctly sharper. The most interesting thing about this interview, though, is that it’s the only one that Giuliani does in the main media tent. Volunteers prowl toting enormous placards bearing the names of various spinners—RICHARDSON, HUGHES, CLARK, ROVE—as enticements to the media mob. Giuliani doesn’t want to be lumped in with the mere shills, so when one of his press aides spots a giant Bush placard with GIULIANI affixed to the bottom, he demands that Rudy’s name be stripped off.
Despite all the airtime, the Democrats don’t believe Giuliani is doing Bush much good. “They trot him out for his 9/11 credentials, but on most of the other issues that define Bush’s agenda, he’s at odds with the president,” says Joe Lockhart, a Kerry adviser. “And he hasn’t been effective in helping the president make his anti-terrorism case. The president’s numbers on Iraq and terror continue to dwindle.”
“There can be Rudy the hero and Rudy the hack,” says Kerry aide David Wade. “And lately he’s chosen to be Rudy the hack. I don’t see a big future for him.”
The Republicans claim that Giuliani is one of Bush’s most powerful surrogates, especially on terrorism. Yet the Bush campaign hasn’t asked him to cut any TV commercials. And with the extremely close race coming down to its final days, Giuliani chose to spend most of last week in England, Germany, and Italy, giving speeches (and missing the Red Sox beating his beloved Yankees). “A business trip that was scheduled a long time ago,” Sunny Mindel says. He’s expected to be back in the swing states this week.
In Tempe, after he finishes with Hannity & Colmes, Giuliani steps back into the cocoon of his bodyguards; when a well-wisher tries to pat Giuliani on the back, one of the security men peels the college kid’s hand back like a banana skin. Rudy makes a quick cell-phone call to his wife, all the while striding through the dark parking lot. He’s skipping the parties and the giant Bush rally at a nearby baseball stadium, where McCain and the other top Republicans are leading the cheers. Instead he’s flying all night to Pennsylvania, to attend an Arlen Specter fund-raiser in the morning. He climbs into the backseat of a waiting SUV and stares out the window. No matter how much Rudy Giuliani may be ingratiating himself with George Bush and the national Republican Party, and no matter how much he turns his back on his hometown in the process, he’ll always be something of a lone wolf. And in that way, at least, he’ll always be a New Yorker.