To Temper Image, Giuliani Trades Growl for Smile
May 29, 2007
To Temper Image, Giuliani Trades Growl for Smile
By MICHAEL POWELL
ATLANTA Oh, baby, here it comes. The gray-haired woman raises her
hand and compliments His Honor for his Sept. 11 bravery. Then she asks
Why does so much of the world hate us? Haven't we failed to understand
Arab grievances? We misinterpret their word "jihad," which is not
necessarily a hostile word.
Rudolph William Louis Giuliani III's eyes pop wide. His eyebrows rise.
He is blinking rapidly. For veteran Rudy watchers, all signs point to
a rhetorical lunge for this woman's jugular.
Except he pauses and looks down at his feet and looks up again and
"Ma'am, I really respectfully disagree," the former mayor tells her.
"Maybe I'll answer your question with a question. Respectfully, again,
I don't think you understand the nature of the threat."
The dyspeptic, "not afraid to suggest his opponents have really
deep-seated psychological problems" Republican mayor of fact and
legend has taken a holiday. What's left on the presidential campaign
trail is a commanding daddy of a candidate, a disciplined fellow who
talks about terrorism and fiscal order and about terrorism some more.
Mr. Giuliani laughs, he gestures expansively, he even pokes fun at his
tendency to wax a wee bit authoritarian. (He suggests a touch of the
cane was necessary to impose discipline on that liberal asylum known
as New York.) He shakes hands with reporters he once viewed as "jerky"
and assures them he is fine with tough questions about abortion, where
he has settled on a position supporting a woman's right to choose, and
about gun control, where is he at least halfway into a policy back-flip.
He has not sanded down all his edges. At Oglethorpe University here,
where he met with 200 voters, he does not hesitate to challenge that
woman who asks about jihad. But he does so in a fashion that leaves
"They hate you," he says of the Islamic terrorists, bringing his hands
up to his chest. "They don't want you to be in this college, or you,
or you ."
Mr. Giuliani wheels around and points toward another middle-aged woman
in the front row, who looks momentarily startled. "And you can't wear
that outfit because you're showing your arms."
"This is reality, ma'am," he continues, his voice streaked with just a
touch of exasperation. "This isn't me making it up. I saw reality
after 9/11. You've got to clear your head."
His answer meets with sustained applause.
If Hillary Rodham Clinton is the nurturer warrior and Barack Obama the
college idealist and John McCain the tough but irreverent flyboy, then
Mr. Giuliani is the father, the talk-tough-on-terror,
In dress, he plays to type. Other candidates go open-necked or pull
flannel shirts out of the closet for New Hampshire.
Not the former mayor. He dresses in the one-size-too-large suits he
has favored since his days as a federal prosecutor, with the top shirt
button fastened and tie knotted tight. It is difficult to imagine
anyone asking him a "really dopey" (two favorite Giuliani words now in
abeyance) question about his favored style in underwear, as someone
once did of Bill Clinton.
Mr. Giuliani has made upgrades. The comb-over, his decades-long
insistence on combing his hair across a substantial expanse of
cranium, is history. His remaining hair is slicked back and comes to
rest in a tight nest of graying curls.
He has honed his speaking style. His mayoral excursions tripped
merrily through the land of ego and id, with all manner of growls.
Challenge him, as one unfortunate did on the mayor's weekly radio show
in 1999, urging him to legalize ferrets as pets, and the best advice
was to duck.
"The excessive concern that you have with ferrets is something you
should examine with a therapist, not with me," the mayor advised. "You
are devoting your life to weasels." "There is something really, really
very sad about you," he added.
Now his sentences are taut three-step progressions that end with a
pleasing verbal whap! So he disposes of the Democrats' insistence
since rescinded on setting a deadline for withdrawal from Iraq. "Has
any army," he says, then pauses, "ever been required," then another
pause, "to give a printed schedule of its retreat?"
The former prosecutor's hands slice and dice at the air as he talks.
He rarely works off notes, which allows him to add a verbal curlicue
or two at each stop. In Atlanta, as a woman seeks his views on health
care, he closes his eyes, crosses his arms and sinks chin in hand. The
effect is to watch the mind's gears turn. David Pass, 31, journeyed to
Olgethorpe to hear Mr. Giuliani. He cannot hide his enthusiasm. "He
lets you know exactly where he stands," Mr. Pass said. "He's not
afraid to say what he believes."
Mr. Giuliani was always a visceral pol; he knows when to retract the
canines. Before the 1993 mayoral campaign, Democratic operatives
assured all who would listen that they would poke until Mr. Giuliani
unleashed his inner Mr. Hyde. It never happened. In November, he beat
the incumbent mayor, David N. Dinkins.
As Mr. Giuliani told an appreciative audience in Alabama, "I'm tough,
I'm strong, but I'm rational."
It's 6:45 a.m. on a sultry spring day in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and 800
people sit in the Bryant Conference Center listening to glitter-haired
sisters playing country violins. They wait patiently for the man who
will be introduced as America's mayor, and they will give him a
standing ovation. Later that day Mr. Giuliani steps out of a black
S.U.V. and walks into a fish joint in Birmingham at the dinner hour.
He flashes a smile, and the patrons stand and clap and slip arms
around him and cadge autographs and photographs.
For all the Beltway chatter that Mr. Giuliani's moderation on abortion
renders him radioactive for the evangelicals who inhabit the core of
the Republican Party, the former mayor attracts little verbal
buckshot. More often, the image that comes to mind as Mr. Giuliani
traipses into a string of packed, applauding rooms in Alabama, Georgia
and New Hampshire is of a rock star, if that rocker happened to be a
balding and slightly hunched former mayor.
In Atlanta, Mr. Giuliani offers to take questions, and a stout blond
woman in a red pantsuit shoots straight up, raising her hand and
nearly shouting, "I think you are sooooo handsome."
(In 1994, a woman in Queens translated the same compliment into New
Yorkese; she peered carefully at Mr. Giuliani and acknowledged, "You
look a lot better in person.")
At the root of his celebrity lies Mr. Giuliani's performance on Sept.
11, 2001. The shadow of that day is inescapable; he is prayed for,
applauded and asked to reminisce. And the refrain from those who
listen to him is the same: When President Bush was flying to and fro,
when Vice President Dick Cheney went to his bunker, Mr. Giuliani was
the eloquent voice and face of America.
In Tuscaloosa, a county chairman spoke of his anxiety that day, and
how listening to the mayor comforted him. In Atlanta, Debbie Lange
said she was no rock-hard Republican. But her adult child lived in
Washington. If she pulls the lever for Mr. Giuliani, hers would be a
"We haven't seen the last of all the horrible things that could happen
to us," she said, her voice becoming a whisper. "I want someone who
could look the worst in the face when it happens."
Mr. Giuliani gets tagged as a late-middle-aged obsessive dining out on
his grand moment. That seems overstated. He talks about competition in
health care. ("The Democrats want socialized medicine." His lips play
with a smirk, and he asks: "How many Americans do you know go to
Europe for health care?") He holds forth on the need to cut taxes and
to require foreign visitors to carry ID cards.
But conversation usually circles back to that September day. When the
towers fell, Mr. Giuliani was certain of what he saw.
Defense is for the surrender crowd. He is about playing offense, and
with a strong stomach: More electronic surveillance, more Patriot Act,
more tough "but legal" interrogation methods. Mr. Giuliani peers at
the smiling residents of Tuscaloosa.
"Right now, as we sit here enjoying breakfast, they are planning on
coming here to kill us," he warns them. "I don't blame people for not
getting it before 9/11. But I do blame people who don't get it now."
He circles his hands around his head, as though to bat away America's
"The Democrats want to take us back on defense," he says. "You can
feel it; you can hear it."
The former mayor sat in a cavernous ballroom on May 21 and listened as
New York Republicans showed him the big love. Happiness flowed so
profusely an observer might forget that most in attendance wanted to
flay Mr. Giuliani when he endorsed Mario M. Cuomo, a Democrat, for
governor in 1994.
Guy Molinari, the diminutive and white-haired former Staten Island
borough president, shot a sideways glance at Mr. Giuliani, who is in
full grin. "I love this guy," Mr. Molinari said.
Only someone really rude would recall Mr. Molinari's take in 1994:
"The only thing that makes sense is that he becomes a Democrat."
Mr. Giuliani was a Kennedy Democrat who has allied himself with Bill
Clinton on issues like banning assault weapons but has also proclaimed
himself a Reagan Republican. Ideological consistency is not Mr.
Giuliani's groove; leadership and destiny are. So is self-assurance.
Ask Mr. Giuliani how to impose fiscal discipline on Washington, and he
notes: "I'm an expert at it." Mention New York and he says: "The
turnaround was massive, palpable; nobody can really deny it." Quiz him
about presidential qualifications, and he says that there is no way to
prepare, but that "being mayor of New York" comes as close as it gets.
As for terror, "I understand terrorism in a way that is equal to or
exceeds anyone else," Mr. Giuliani says.
Mr. Giuliani will drop a self-deprecating joke. When annoyance tickles
at the back of his spine, he has learned to smile rather than scowl.
But he suffers no deficit of self-confidence.
He took a walking tour of a woodworking factory in the Connecticut
River Valley on May 23. Then 150 workers gathered round, eye visors
slung around their necks, and a woman with auburn hair pulled back
asked him what it took to become president.
Mr. Giuliani's brow furrowed. He began talking about the grand,
bipartisan, four-president-long effort to put a man on the moon. Such
an achievement "needs someone with a driving personality who can get
He smiled, almost to himself. "And I've got the candidate who can get
it done," he said.
He took two steps, leaned toward her and pointed at his chest. He
mouthed a single word: