I saw presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani last night. At least I think he’s a candidate. He looked good, but said nothing. Reagan, blah, blah, blah 9-11, blah, blah blah. I knew we were in for it when he started off with a Parkinson’s joke about a shaky lady in the jury on his first case as a journeyman Asst. US Attorney. Bad call. Except for Rudy’s nervous giggle when he realized he’d bombed, it got no laugh at all.
But Rudy’s a pro, he didn’t miss a beat. He launched right into his prostate cancer story, and then took us home with tales of September 11. It was basically the same motivational speech he’s been giving to corporate America for $100k a pop for years now.
But it’s NH and it’s primary season, he’s filed a presidential exploratory committee, yet remains coy about his intentions. Nearly a half-hour of pontificating about team work and keeping a positive outlook – I didn’t hear a single syllable of information.
I asked him if he would consider re-ordering national priorities to re-purpose the $60 billion for cold war era weapons systems in the federal budget and distribute it among the nation’s communities to pay for education, health care, and environmental clean-up. I got the question from PrioritiesNH, and I asked it because it’s a good one.
Rudy’s response was to say he’s a fiscal conservative, and that he learned his frugality (and apparently everything else he knows) from working for Ronald Reagan. The same Ronald Reagan who, until George W. Bush came along, ran up the largest budget deficits in history. So it wasn’t much of an answer.
I’m sorry to say this, but people cringe a little when he refers to his wife Judith, who I’m sure is a very nice person. But the immutability of human nature requires people to gossip and feel superior in any way they can. So Rudy’s marital history will be an issue even if no one explicitly makes it one. We can count on Newt Gingrich and John McCain not to bring it up, but it’s fair game for the rest of the Republican field.
Earlier in the evening, just after Rudy and Judy arrived, they spent several minutes in a corner talking to three little girls. I stood in a huddle with some national press people watching. “He’s spending more time with the girl scouts than he did with us,” said one wire service reporter. “Can you hear him, what’s he saying?” asked another. “He’s telling them that if they’re really good, someday when they grow, he might marry them too,” I said. And everybody laughed, which is why nobody likes the press, the cynical bastards. All fairness aside (afterall, this is politics), the philandering issue isn't going away.
The Religious Right despises Rudy’s lack of uxoriousness. There aren’t many of them in NH, the least-church-going state in the union (according to the US Census, thank you very much), but it will be discussed elsewhere, and at length. Of course, if Rudy had gotten saved and left his wife for a Bible-believing Christian woman that would have been kosher. Morality is malleable these days, even among the hardest cases.
All in all, it was an anemic visit to the most important primary state by an all-but-announced presidential candidate. He may have felt the venue (the Littleton Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner) was inappropriate for a political speech, but even when prodded for an answer by a friendly questioner, he wouldn’t show his hand.
“It’s not up to me whether I’m a candidate,” he said. “It’s up to you.”
That’s as close as he got to campaigning. Either he’s playing rope-a-dope, or this guy is not prepared to run for president.
He speaks to the battered and broken Republican State Committee today at their annual convention in Manchester, and while they could surely use a motivational speech, they’ll expect more. And he better deliver. Candidates don’t get a lot of chances before the hacks of NH will look elsewhere.
Also see: Bernie Kerik, Giuliani