Here's Rudy Giuliani Wednesday night on President Obama, according to a report in Politico:
“I do not believe — and I know this is a horrible thing to say — but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”
First off, a piece of advice. If you have to preface what you are planning to say with "this is a horrible thing to say," you probably shouldn't say it. Second, Giuliani's comments seems to reflect a final stage of his transformation from serious politician to guy-who-says-inflamatory-things-just-to-say-inflammatory-things. (Remember his comments about the deaths of young black men last fall?)
Let's be clear: NO politician with any sort of national ambition -- or any sort of ambition at all, really -- would say what Giuliani reportedly said about Obama. Not one. Questioning patriotism is a line that simply is not crossed at that level of politics. And there's a reason for that: Once you question whether someone "loves" this country, the possibility -- remote as it may have been before that comment -- of a civilized debate between two sides goes out the window.
But there's something even more noxious, politically speaking, going on with Giuliani's comments. It's not just the questioning of Obama's patriotism but also the suggested "otherness" of Obama that is at work here. "He wasn't brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up," said Giuliani. Context matters here -- and makes matters worse for the former New York mayor.
The setting was a private dinner -- featuring Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker -- at a New York restaurant to a group described by Politico as "60 right-leaning business executives and conservative media types." Making the "Obama isn't really like you and me" argument in that setting plays into a corrosive racial narrative that Republicans have worked very hard to steer away from -- and smartly so -- during the Obama presidency.
So, why the hell did Giuliani say it? Most likely because he believes it. Remember that Giuliani's most formative experience as a national politician was the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when he was serving as New York's mayor. In the aftermath of those attacks and during the entirety of his 2008 bid for president, he was the most aggressive voice in the party for an active policy to root out the growing threat of non-state terrorists.
Since leaving the national spotlight, Giuliani appears to have become even more convinced of the rightness of such an aggressive approach in the face of the rise of the Islamic State. And, like many conservatives, Giuliani is quite clearly annoyed by Obama's unwillingness to label the threat as Islamic terrorism or, in his view, to take the necessary measures to combat it. “What country has left so many young men and women dead abroad to save other countries without taking land?," Giuliani asked, again, according to Politico. "This is not the colonial empire that somehow he has in his hand. I’ve never felt that from [Obama]."
Here's the thing: Giuliani was once a very important -- and intriguing -- player in American politics: A tough-on-crime, take-charge guy tasked with running the biggest city in the country. Now, thanks to comments like this one on Obama, he is turning into something far more run-of-the-mill in the political world: A rank partisan willing to say the most outlandish of things to get attention.
Republicans -- like Walker -- who may be courting Giuliani's support in 2016 would do well to remember the transformation of the mayor and the risks that his endorsement may now carry.
If early returns are any indication, however, they won't be heeding that advice.
"The gist of what Mayor Giuliani said -- that the president has shown himself to be completely unable to speak the truth about the nature of the threats from these ISIS terrorists -- is true," said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, another presidential aspirant, on Thursday. "If you are looking for someone to condemn the mayor, look elsewhere."