The Full Rude-y

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 9, 2007 12:38 PM

Rudy Giuliani tells people to stick it.

And that, I think, is as good an explanation as any for why he remains ahead in the GOP polls.

The pundits, let's face it, have been wrong about Giuliani. As soon as those conservatives in the heartland learned that he was pro-choice and pro-gay and anti-gun, the prognosticators said, his support would vanish faster than a pickpocket at Times Square. And that hasn't happened, at least not so far.

But the underlying expectations, among journalists who make their living in the Big Apple, were also cultural. Rudy is a big-mouth, tough-talking, get-outta-my-face Brooklyn guy, and that wouldn't wear well in Cedar Rapids, would it? The guy who went after everyone from squeegee men to black leaders to his wife wasn't going to be seen as presidential material--was he?

Well, he is. Part of that has to do with his perceived strength on 9/11, and part with shortcomings in the rest of the field. But guess what: After seven years of an administration that bungled Katrina and launched a disastrous war, many people may want a guy who will kick tail and take names. And who cares if he doesn't get along with his kids?

This comes to mind because of a recent NYT piece on Rudy's weekly radio gig when he was mayor, which captured the rougher edges of his personality:

"When Joe from Manhattan called in 1998 to complain about the city government giving special parking privileges to a white-shoe law firm, Mayor Giuliani emitted an audible groan into the microphone.

" 'Well, let me give you another view of that rather than the sort of Marxist class concept that you're introducing,' Mr. Giuliani said . . .

"And when Sal from Brooklyn called in 1999 to complain about owners who refused to pick up after their dogs in Marine Park, well, Hizzoner could not contain himself -- even with a caller with whom he agreed.

" 'I get angry about this all the time! When I was a private citizen I would go up to people and tell them they were slobs,' Mr. Giuliani recalled. 'I would say: "Hey, you're a real slob. And you're disrespectful of the rights of other people. Clean up after your dog, damn it!" ' ."

Slobs around the world, look out!

"On Aug. 8, 1998, Marvin from Brooklyn complained that the mayor talked too much about the Yankees. (Mr. Giuliani opened summertime programs by examining the Yankees' prospects and closed with: 'Go Yankees!') Marvin got off the line but the mayor was not finished with him.

" 'Marvin, where'd you go? You go back into your hole, Marvin? Listen, I enjoy sports, Marvin -- you think that makes me a bad person? Marvin, get a life.' . . .

"Giuliani the Presidential Candidate is a pasteurized fellow who favors smiles and reasoned talk and self-deprecating humor (not to mention unexpected cellphone calls from his wife). One can trail him for weeks without monitoring a temperamental eruption.

"But to listen to a Giuliani sampler -- 55 taped hours of his old radio program, which ran from 1994 to 2001 -- is to hear the uncensored and unbowed Mr. Giuliani, an irascible figure familiar to millions of New Yorkers."

Imagine how much more fun the Saturday radio addresses would be.

Newsweek's Jonathan Alter says Rudy's greatest radio hits won't hurt him for now, with one exception:

"All year, many New Yorkers have been trying to tell their friends in other parts of the country that there's another Rudy Giuliani than the one they're seeing in debates--the bully boy who should spell his first name with an 'e.'

"Now they--and all of Giuliani's critics--are about to have a 55-hour treasure trove of material to work with. It's as if a revealing but non-legally-incriminating version of the tapes of Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon were out there for everyone to hear, hiding in plain sight before they got to the White House . . .

"In fact, little on the tapes is likely to hurt Giuliani in the Republican primaries. Voters in those contests like a tough guy who insults dopey liberals.

"The only exception may be his criticism of the National Rifle Association. 'It really is absolutely astounding that the NRA continues to have influence in areas in which they make no sense at all,' the mayor said in an annoyed tone in 1994 after being asked about the gun lobby's opposition to banning assault weapons.

"The bigger problem the tapes pose will come if Giuliani is the GOP nominee. Then they can be used in general-election attack ads to suggest that he lacks the temperament to be president."

In New York magazine, John Heilemann ties Rudy's success to "his ability to frame both his candidacy and the contest in terms favorable to him. Forget about the social issues, he says, in effect, and focus on what matters: foreign terrorists and homegrown liberals, the two enemies that unite all of the factions of the GOP, which views them both as mortal threats to civilization. The core of his pitch is that only he is rough enough, tough enough, and mean enough to combat the threat of Islamofascism. . . . The image he offers of himself as president is badass-in-chief.

"For Republicans to have a chance in 2008, they will need a candidate willing to make a 'clean break' with Bush and his policies, including on Iraq. That's not me talking, it's Newt Gingrich, though I couldn't agree more . . .

"Giuliani's adherents argue that he can do just that, as demonstrated by his repeat mayoral victories in this bluest of cities. Yet for all his moderation on cultural matters, Giuliani's wins here weren't built on a purplish appeal. His shtick was divide and conquer, polarize and demonize. And so it remains today."

Andrew Sullivan says Rudy was great--for the five boroughs:

"I was and remain a big fan of Giuliani as mayor of NYC. I'm not denying the flaws and the nuttiness and the polarization. But anyone who denies the transformation of NYC in his tenure is missing an important moment in urban America. I would have gladly supported him every time he ran.

"But being mayor in NYC, which means being a flaming [expletive] and occasional authoritarian are not the skills we need in the presidency right now. He's a hothead and downright dangerous in the White House - both to global stability and to the Constitution. The Conventional wisdom is that any president after Bush will gain a huge boost from world opinion. The only candidate for whom that would not apply, I think, is Giuliani. His diplomatic skills are worse than Cheney's. He cannot even reach non-white New Yorkers, let along the global Muslim opinion we need to win over."

A new Rudy headache -- this James Dobson piece in the NYT:

"After two hours of deliberation, we voted on a resolution that can be summarized as follows: If neither of the two major political parties nominates an individual who pledges himself or herself to the sanctity of human life, we will join others in voting for a minor-party candidate. Those agreeing with the proposition were invited to stand. The result was almost unanimous."

In that light, is Giuliani the strongest GOP contender for November 2008? Bill Kristol isn't so sure:

"The difference in Rudy's relative performance and Thompson's really isn't that great. And it's not as if Rudy is defeating Hillary while everyone else is losing. They're all losing, in accord with the current generic gap between the parties. Indeed, six months ago Rudy was running 4 points ahead of Clinton (in the Real Clear Politics average), whereas he's now 6 points behind. So the notion that Rudy would significantly outperform other Republicans in the general election, or that Rudy alone can magically save the GOP from defeat, or that longer exposure to him helps with swing voters - all of this is far from clear.

"There's a greater likelihood of a third-party effort against Rudy than against any of the other likely GOP nominees. That third party won't get the 14 percent of the vote that a hypothetical pro-life third party received in a Rasmussen survey - and Rudy therefore wouldn't lose to Hillary 46 to 30, as the survey suggested. But the third party question does suggest how rickety the electability argument is. Let's say a pro-life third party got the 2.74 percent of the vote Ralph Nader got in 2000, and let's assume that with another Republican nominee there wouldn't be such a third-party effort. If the GOP nominee holds almost all those voters, then Giuliani's electability advantage basically disappears.

"None of this is to say Rudy might not turn out to be the strongest candidate against Hillary. It is to say that this is less clear than Rudy claims - and that electability therefore is unlikely to work as a decisive argument for Rudy with Republican primary voters as January approaches."

Is Hillary triangulating between her base and . . . her husband?

"Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton distanced herself Monday from one of her husband's signature White House achievements, saying NAFTA should be reassessed and 'adjusted' and any new free trade agreements postponed.

" 'I think we do need to take a deep breath and figure out how we can make it work for the greatest numbers of people,' she told USA TODAY. Clinton said NAFTA's benefits have gone to the wealthy and cost jobs for working people. She said a 'timeout' in new accords would last until she felt the issue of trade in the 21st century had been adequately studied."

Maybe the timeout just needs to last until the election.

"The former first lady has split with her husband on only a few issues, including on his view that torture can be used to foil a terrorist plot. She has said torture shouldn't be U.S. policy. She also has called for an update of the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy he devised for gays in the military."

Today is the big day for Fred Thompson: Can he play with the big boys at the Chris Matthews-Maria Bartiromo debate? The NYT provides a history lesson:

In his 1994 debates against Rep. Jim Cooper, "Mr. Thompson's delivery back then was usually smooth and expressionless, not a monotone but not displaying much charisma, either. He sounded articulate, speaking in full, well-rounded sentences, but stopped short of eloquence.

"Even when he was on the attack, or firing back at a rough question, he rarely lost his cool.

"Speaking of Mr. Cooper, he deadpanned, 'There's nothing more desperate than a career politician facing the prospect of having to get a real job for the first time in his life.'

"In one of the only heated exchanges in a debate broadcast on WMC-TV Memphis in October 1994, Mr. Thompson responded to charges that he was a rich, out-of-touch Washington lobbyist by continuing that same line of attack about Mr. Cooper's career. 'You know, you'll never be a lobbyist and you'll probably be few other things either,' he told Mr. Cooper, not even raising his voice. 'You were born to great wealth and privilege. You've never had a real job in your life.' "

At Real Clear Politics, Tom Bevan says Fred needs to counter some of his negative press:

"One month ago all eyes were on Fred Thompson as he launched his campaign for President with a bus tour through Iowa. Since then, Thompson has visited New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee, mostly to undewhelming reviews by the press.

"In the meantime, however, Thompson has continued to climb slowly in the polls and he posted a respectable but not jaw dropping number ($9.3 million) for his first official quarter of fund raising.

"But now all eyes are on Thompson again heading into tomorrow's GOP debate in Dearborn, Michigan, where Thompson will make his first appearance along with the rest of the Republican field. He's doing his best to downplay expectations by saying he'll be a 'bit rusty' in the debate format and hoping he'll be able to "hang in there" with his colleagues, but the truth is that expectations remain exceedingly high.

"This debate will not be seen by a lot of people, but it is one that will be watched closely by two important groups. The first is influential members of the Republican establishment and the business community who'll be listening carefully to the candidates' philosophies and responses on economic issues. The second group is the pundit class, who will shape the perception of Tuesday's results (who wins, who loses, how Fred performs) . . .

"Given that Thompson's campaign has been panned by many mainstream pundits over the last few weeks, he'd like to avoid another round of headlines saying 'Thompson fails to impress' or 'Thompson doesn't stand out from the pack.' Negative media spin isn't going to kill Thompson's campaign, but at this point in the game it's not inconsequential."

By the way, for those who are interested in my new book "Reality Show: Inside the Last Great Television News War," I'll be blogging about it and my media schedule here. Hot tip: me and Jon Stewart on Thursday night.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive