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The Ambivalent Candidate


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Note to readers: Your faithful scribe was recently asked to become a regular contributor to Commentary magazine’s Contentions blog (go to www.commentarymagazine.com and click on the word “Contentions” in the blog section of the home page).

The blog’s list of past and present contributors includes, among others too numerous to mention, John Podhoretz and Norman Podhoretz, Edward Alexander, Hillel Halkin, Victor Davis Hanson, Joshua Muravchik, Peter Wehner and Ruth R. Wisse; needless to say, it’s an honor to be in such heady intellectual company.

This week’s column originated, in slightly different form, as this contributor’s maiden posting for Contentions.

The amazing implosion of Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign will be analyzed and argued about for years to come. The Monitor’s own take, hardly original and admittedly based on nothing more than informed speculation, is that he simply was ambivalent about the whole enterprise to begin with.

Anyone who witnessed Rudy’s unforgettable eight-year turn as mayor of New York knows that when Rudy really wants something, he’s tenacious and single-minded about getting it. He’ll fight anyone and anything standing in his way, conventional wisdom and political nicety be damned.

And that’s exactly the Rudy we didn’t see in this campaign, from his surprisingly languid acknowledgment to Larry King in Feb. 2007 that yes, he was in the race, to his strangely subdued performance in what turned out to have been his last presidential debate in Florida last week.

It’s been suggested, by some who harbored a certain level of skepticism about the depth of Rudy’s commitment to a presidential run, that perhaps Rudy thought a tentative campaign, particularly in a year that looked, at least early on, like a washout for the GOP, would raise his profile to an even higher degree and be beneficial for business – i.e., for Giuliani Partners and his already astronomical speaking fees.

Perhaps there’s some truth to that, but lacking access to the inner workings of his psyche, the Monitor can only go back to that earlier suggestion about ambivalence. Part of him liked the idea of being president, of attempting to replicate his success in New York on a national level, but another part of him wasn’t so sure. If the presidency were handed to him, yes – but the gritty day-to-day work of campaigning for office had never been his strong suit.

That much was obvious from his first, mistake-prone and unsuccessful run for mayor in 1989 as well as his victorious second effort in 1993. Andrew Kirtzman, in his highly readable and balanced book Rudy Giuliani: Emperor of the City, described candidate Giuliani on the campaign trail in 1993:

“Other politicians could lose themselves in the moment when working a crowd, but Giuliani never lost the look in his eye that said all this was a just a means to an end…. When he spoke before a crowd he didn’t romance them or flatter them or try to seduce them. Rather, he argued his case; a lawyer making his final summation. He was all prose and no poetry.”

In 1997, Rudy could have shut himself up inside Gracie Mansion and still won reelection, such was his record of accomplishment in his first term of office and the mediocre opposition he faced in Manhattan borough president Ruth Messinger. So 1997 offered no real test of his campaigning skills.

But, certainly in retrospect, his short-lived run for U.S. Senate in 2000 was in many ways a precursor to his near-somnolent presidential bid seven years later. Kirtzman titles the chapter in his book about that campaign “The Reluctant Candidate” and describes the tenor of the campaign in the late winter and early spring of 2000 – before Rudy’s health and marital issues took him out of the running:

“…Giuliani had barely deigned to mount a campaign. While [Hillary] Clinton was well on her way to visiting all sixty-two of New York State’s counties, he’d hardly traveled outside the city. While she was honing her message, he’d barely issued a position paper. Inside his camp, meetings weren’t being held, polls weren’t being taken…. The mayor acted as though he were entitled to the Senate seat, and he didn’t seem to want it all that much.”

In The Prince of the City, his fine study of the Giuliani mayoralty, unabashed Rudy admirer Fred Siegel wrote of the widespread surprise at “Giuliani’s lukewarm approach to a Senate race that had much of the country abuzz.”

Giuliani, wrote Siegel, “seemed to want the job but only if it meant he didn’t have to miss too many Yankee games or campaign too often in the frigid areas of upstate.”

Sound familiar?

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About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press.


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