Last night’s Republican CNN/YouTube debate opened with fireworks: Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney heatedly debating whether Romney was responsible for hiring illegal immigrants to work on his house (and if so, would he recommend them to friends and neighbors). But like an actual fireworks display, it soon grew repetitive and numbing. For those of you who flipped to Kid Nation, here’s a rundown of the evening’s highlights.
Who's on top in the current slapfest between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, wherein both candidates lustily highlight each other's flip-flopping? Slate thinks "Romney is unlikely to win this tit-for-tat" because Rudy's got YouTube on his side — there's a lot of fairly recent sound bites of the former Massachusetts governor saying somewhat liberal stuff out there. On the other hand, it's not like Rudy hasn't got a formerly stellar gay-rights record just waiting to be fashioned into a Sodom-and-Gomorrah attack ad. In the meantime, both have discovered a perfect smear tactic: link the opponent to Hillary! Yesterday, Romney reached back to 1994 to remind voters that Giuliani "had nothing but praise" for Clinton's ill-fated health-care-reform plan. Which is, well, true. Funny thing, though, Giuliani himself recently accused Romney of "sort of [doing] Hillary's plan in Massachusetts." Following the whole interaction is, frankly, not unlike watching two kids kick a dead squirrel back and forth: Both keep yelling "ew," but nobody's man enough to stop, even though the squirrel is going to be kicked right back. One irony here is that both Mitt and Rudy are correct: Both used to be far less ideologically rigid when it came to concrete governance issues, hence the now-damaging quotes. Another irony is that their spat is reframing the Republican primary race as a two-way contest — leaving behind a handful of actual lifelong conservatives. In the end, the only one left undiminished is the squirrel. —Michael Idov Romney: Giuliani Praised Clinton Plan [AP]
Remember how much mileage the right got out of Hillary Clinton’s “planted question” flap, when a college student was asked to bring up the candidate’s environment record at a campaign event? Well, it appears Rudy Giuliani has got his own Jeff Gannon–esque superfan in one Richard Florino. The Rudy volunteer (and a co-chairman of his campaign in Windham County, New Hampshire), was called upon to lob the first questions in two back-to-back stops on Giuliani’s bus tour. The first one: “What makes the liberal Democrats so wrong about the threats that this country faces?” Good one! (Or, as Rudy put it: “Very, very interesting analysis.”) The second question, a day later, was a trenchant two-parter about both Democrats’ tax policies and Romney’s flip-flopping. Florino, of course, says he’s not a plant: “Basically,” he told the Daily News, “I just love politics.” Or maybe he just hates hard questions: He is likely the same Richard Florino whose ornery letter to New Hampshire’s Nashua Telegraph shames Hillary for being tough on General Petraeus. He works a Rudy plug into that one, too.
Tonight, the Democratic “hopefuls” (by which we mean one probable, two unlikelies, and four delusionals) are gathering for an 8 p.m. debate in Las Vegas. CNN isn’t even bothering with the respective Dem-candidate poll numbers in Nevada — they’re too busy matching Hillary up to Rudy (dead heat) and Romney (easy Clinton win). Which is funny, because the narrative of this debate seems to be more along the lines of “Can Hillary regain her momentum?”
It’s a pivotal moment in the 2008 race: The day voters get to see Giuliani's ferrety smile in a softly lit close-up. That's right, the Republican front-runner finally answered the public clamoring for more multimedia Rudy and premiered his first TV campaign spot, which will begin running today in New Hampshire. The ad goes straight to Giuliani’s credentials: eight years running New York City, “the third- or fourth-largest government in the country.” (About that “third or fourth” thing — they couldn’t look it up?) As we know, whenever Giuliani mentions his hometown, he’s forced to perform a complicated two-step of praising it and dumping on it at the same time; this time he does it with, um, pictures.
Sometime last week, the narrative of Clinton's candidacy changed from the inevitability of her nomination to, as today's Daily News lede helpfully summarizes, “Where did Hillary Clinton's mojo go?” We dare propose it went right up the widening gyre of the news cycle: At this point, the media continue an enthusiastic pileup — while lamenting that pileup's largely imaginary toll. (“Clinton remains way ahead in national polls,” the News admits in the story's tenth graph, “Though some have shown a slip.”) Not to worry: The next, equally specious, chapter will probably be about how the victimized Hillary is racking up sympathy votes. With any luck, we can go through five or six more of these twists before Iowa, basing each one on a 3 percent shift in a poll with a 4 percent error margin. In the meantime, the latest outrages.
Want a preview of what it will be like to have Hillary as a general-election candidate? Here’s a ghost of scandals past, Kathleen Willey, hawking her new book on (but of course) Fox News:
“She's behind the secret police. She's the one who sets up the war room when he goes out and he does what he does and he zeroes in on women.”
“She” is Hillary, of course, and “he” is Bill. For our younger readers just tuning in to the wonderful world of politics, Willey is a former White House staffer who accused Bill Clinton of making a pass at her in the Oval Office. Her story didn’t stick — even Ken Starr found discrepancies in it — so she’s become a minor footnote to the Lewinsky era. Until now! Among other revelations in Willey’s book, titled Target: A Sensible SuperstoreCaught in the Crosshairs of Bill and Hillary Clinton: Hillary tried to intimidate Willey by having a scary jogger kill her cat Bullseye (seriously, between this and tossing Socks out, the woman is not getting a single cat vote in 2008). Also, Kathleen’s husband committed suicide in 1993 — or did he? Also, the manuscript for the book almost got stolen.
Just to reiterate — this is a person with a publishing deal and major cable-news bookings, a year before the elections. Yeah, this is going to be great. —Michael Idov Sex Assault Accuser Lobs Fresh Charges At Clinton Duo [Fox News]
With Pat Robertson's surprise endorsement delivering unto Giuliani a whole new demographic we'd never guess would swing his way, the air of inevitability surrounding Rudy has never been thicker. It could be, as a colleague suggests, that our East Coast bubble obscures the actual, awesome extent of his heartland popularity; it could also be that, after McCain's sad diminution, the Republicans have simply been unable to produce a serious rival. Either way, 362 days before the general election, the swelling certainty of Rudy’s nomination is making the Democratic field look like a tossup. Even stranger, the man is nigh invincible, and not just because he survived a Mob assassination plot (that probably never happened). Rudy’s been making gaffes left and right — big ones — and yet the only stories on him that get any national pickup are folksy character profiles. (We even contributed to the trend by publishing a letter from his former chef, who painted him as “a man of simple taste pacified with a slice.”)
You know, it’s nice to see something finally get Obama’s goat. After taking the high road on just about every occasion, including a recent pileup on Hillary during the last Democratic debate, he was on the verge of making the John Kerry mistake — refusing to engage his critics and coming off aloof. (Compare this to Giuliani, who, at a recent campaign event, sternly lectured a 9-year-old girl on Democratic spinelessness.) The “compromising evidence” that has Barack crying dirty tricks is so monumentally idiotic there’s barely a joke to be made about it: It’s a widely e-mailed photo of the candidate not holding his hand over his heart during a recitation of the pledge of allegiance.
We’re not huge fans of the trope that follows Elizabeth Kucinich around. (You know: “Dennis doesn’t need poll numbers — he already won”). It’s flippant and ever-so-slightly swinish. That said, yesterday Mrs. Kucinich spoke at the same breast-cancer summit as Judith Giuliani, and you know what? Screw it: Dennis already won. Elizabeth (a) showed up in a stylish pink coat hinting at, but not aping, the breast-cancer ribbon color, (b) spoke knowledgeably and off-the-cuff about the British health-care system, and (c) stuck around to chat.
God knows you don’t need to dig too deep or spin too hard to catch Rudy Giuliani saying something awful. Usually, you just have to wait five minutes into a given public appearance — yesterday’s “I hope to do for the country what Bernie Kerik did for the city” comment comes to mind. And that’s why today’s flap over the candidate’s “torture joke” strikes us as a bit of a reach. Rudy made a funny about how, if sleep deprivation is torture, then his campaign schedule is torture, too. Before you knew it, John McCain demanded an apology, and the ex-Marine who runs McCain’s Veterans Advisory Committee in New Hampshire said, “His hyperbole is an insult to all American soldiers who have had to endure real torture.”
Last month, Hillary Clinton garnered the doubtlessly coveted endorsement of George McGovern (1972, one state won, 17 electoral votes). This weekend brought another exciting bit of news on the Losers 4 Hillary front: the enthusiastic endorsement by Walter Mondale (1984 nominee, one state* won, 13 electoral votes, worst defeat in Democratic Party's history)! With Michael Dukakis silent, we're waiting for Alf Landon to rise from the dead and break party rank just to give the campaign that extra touch of certain doom.
*Plus the District of Columbia, if you insist.Unsurprisingly, Mondale Endorses Hillary [Democratic Underground]
Either as a result of a major weekend push by Giuliani's handlers or by pure serendipity, today wound up as a kind of Meet-the-real-Rudy Media Monday. The AP's folksy profile, which started things off, illustrates why global newswires shouldn't be in the folksy-profile business. “Rudy Giuliani minces no words and suffers no fools,” the piece starts. “He eats peanuts with the shells still on.” It goes on like this, about his tender-age love of boxing and opera and his “volcanic eruptions of pique,” basically verging on a Chuck Norris joke (Giuliani's tears cure 9/11 first responders' syndrome. Too bad he never cries) throughout.
When we heard that an anti-Clinton video is racking up Dick in a Box–type numbers in online views (1.4 million on GoogleVideo, 350,000 on YouTube), we figured that the author, Peter Paul, had gotten his hands on photos of Hillary high-fiving Bill over Vernon Jordan’s corpse or personally strangling Socks. Imagine our disappointment when the incriminating clip turned out to be a long, whiny hate letter from a spurned supporter: a video equivalent of what Jezebel.com terms a Crap Email From a Dude.
This bit of today's news will undoubtedly be welcome in the Giuliani campaign HQ: Yesterday, a witness at a trial mentioned a mob-boss summit in the fall of 1986 where a hit on Rudy Giuliani was seriously discussed. The Gambinos wanted the pesky prosecutor dead; the Bonannos demurred. Giuliani lived to milk his landmark Mafia investigation all the way to City Hall — and now he can easily squeeze it for an additional bio-burnishing PR tidbit as a presidential … sorry, what were we saying? We can't concentrate because we're staring at the bewildering photo of '86-era Rudy that accompanies the story. What's that look he's going for? It's like … a leather-daddy Woody Allen with Paul Simon's hair. Forget the crime-fighting cred: Rudy better hope this story doesn't get any traction.
Court Told Mob Bosses Voted on Whacking Giuliani In '86 [NYDN]
Congressman Charlie Rangel has always had a sharp tongue, and now he seems to be putting it at the service, so to speak, of Hillary Clinton: Yesterday, he rolled out exactly the kind of red-meat attack on the GOP candidate field that Clinton (whom Rangel supports) would be far too civil to launch. “Two people, six spouses,” Rangel told CNN, referring to the total number of marriages between Rudy Giuliani and Judith Nathan. “It’s a little complicated if you’re not religious, especially if you’re running against a Mormon.” He added: “There are enough moles on this man that embarrasses those of us who have sought public life.” Wow. First of all, we’re not sure where Rangel was going with the Mitt Romney crack, but it wasn’t anywhere good. And second, moles? Those are not moles — they’re weasels!
Rangel: Giuliani ‘Embarrasses Us’ [CNN]
Not a month after the Norman Hsu flap (and eleven years after the Chinese government supposedly tried to help finance Bill’s reelection), Hillary is on the defensive about taking money from Chinese immigrant benefactors. This time, it looks even more awkward. As the L.A. Times reported late last week, the candidate’s fund-raising swing through the Chinese community of New York resulted in $500 to $2,300 donations from people identified as “dishwashers, waiters and street stall hawkers.” Of the 150 donors on paper, 50 couldn’t be located, and at least one openly says he hasn’t contributed to the campaign. An April fund-raiser in a poor neighborhood fetched $380,000.
Today we learned that Rudy Giuliani is the favored presidential candidate of Jeff Gordon and several other NASCAR superstars whose names we didn't recognize but whose support may open up a huge southern Christian demographic for the thrice-divorced Catholic Brooklynite. It’s the most popular sport in the country, people! We dutifully checked HuffPo’s indispensable FundRace tool, and, indeed, there it was: Gordon’s $2,300 contribution to the Rudy campaign (offset slightly by Riverside Drive’s Jeff Gordon, a Columbia professor, throwing $250 at Hillary).
The Obama campaign went into mild damage-control mode this week because Barack's wife, Michelle Obama, said her husband must win Iowa — if not, then the campaign is “just a dream.” Obama's people say she was ginning up the ground troops (the remark was made in Iowa). But guess what: She's right. Obama needs to be a massive hit in Iowa. Aided by the Republicans who use her as a fundraising scarecrow, Hillary Clinton has been incredibly successful acting like she's already been nominated — her lead is continuing to widen. If she aces Iowa, the self-fulfilling prophesy of her candidacy will just domino from there. (This is how we ended up with Kerry in 2004.) There's no shame in framing Iowa as a do-or-die state for Obama — in fact, saying it out loud right now could be a shrewd move that will get more non-Iowans to come down and work the state. More importantly, though, the incident highlights why Michelle Obama is our single favorite thing about this entire campaign season.
Last night in New Hampshire, the Democratic presidential candidates were asked to quote their favorite Bible verse. Leaving aside the matter of what-the-hell- kind-of-question-is-this, the Dems did pitifully. Obama name-checked the Sermon on the Mount but didn't hazard a quote. Hillary evoked do-unto-others, which she referred to as the Golden Rule. Flower child Mike Gravel came up with, simply, “The most important thing in life is love.” Finally, Dennis Kucinich took the godless cake by going straight to the so-called “Prayer from St. Francis,” which as the Caucus explains, hadn't seen much circulation before World War II. We're wondering how the other side would stack up against the same challenge.