Rudy’s Having Fun, but Joke’s on Him

Now that the Arkansas flag no longer flies above City Hall–hey, that was a hoot!–Rudy Giuliani, shtickmeister, should re-consider any further plans to make merry at the expense of his prospective Senatorial opponent. Sure, the idea of deploying riot police outside the city’s public schools to remind New Yorkers of Little Rock’s little problem with desegregation sounded hilarious on paper, but the kids wouldn’t have gotten the joke. And besides, drawing attention to the city’s schools might not be the best way to display a talent for irony.

Oh, it must be great fun thinking up ways to needle Hillary Clinton, and Lord knows campaign hijinks are always more enjoyable than wringing one’s hands over reading scores. But what if Mr. Giuliani’s taunts wind up driving Mrs. Clinton out of the race? What if the First Lady decided that a return to private life and the making of many millions through book sales, rainmaking, etc., are infinitely preferable to another 18 months of serving as Mr. Giuliani’s personal pin cushion?

What would Mr. Giuliani do then? For without Hillary Clinton in the race, the Mayor’s biggest selling point–that he and only he can save New York from celebrity socialism in the Senate–disappears. According to the Mario Cuomo Handbook of Political Philosophizing, when a candidate has no rationale, well, all kinds of things happen, none of them good.

“Rudy is the vampire slayer and Hillary is the vampire,” said the eminently quotable Jay Severin, a Republican consultant, cable-TV talking head and man about town. “If the vampire disappears, we don’t need a vampire slayer. And that would give conservatives an opportunity to choose one of their own without the bogeywoman of Hillary looming over them and forcing them to make a compromise choice.”

If they didn’t have the First Lady and her team to worry about, Governor George Pataki, former Senator Alfonse D’Amato, Conservative Party boss Michael Long and other F.O.R.’s (Foes of Rudy) could rally around the candidacy of Representative Rick Lazio of Long Island, whose chief senatorial selling point seems to be that nobody hates him and he seems like a nice young man. In an age that has replaced issues of war and peace with Q ratings, Mr. Lazio’s singular strength ought not to be casually dismissed.

And without Hillary Clinton, perhaps Mr. Lazio’s Long Island colleague, Peter King, would decide that he’d love to stand in the way of Mr. Giuliani’s (and Mr. Lazio’s) presumptions. While Mr. King says he is thinking seriously about the race anyway, it’s hard to believe he’s particularly eager to challenge the wife of his favorite Democrat. But if the Mayor’s taunting becomes so ironic, if his stunts become so piercing, that Mrs. Clinton is forced to withdraw for the sake of her honor and dignity, well then, Mr. King can run for Senate without getting dropped from the guest list at next year’s White House St. Patrick’s Day party.

Mrs. Clinton’s deliberations have provided the blowhards on television with no end of material for their uninformed guesswork. But while they have been carrying on about the historic nature of a First Lady running for office on her own and what it means about the state of feminism and baby boomerhood and so on and so forth until they foam at the mouth and fall over, a far more interesting and textured story is underway among the Republicans.

A great many Republicans, including, it would seem, New York’s first elected Republican governor since Nelson Rockefeller, apparently would prefer that Mr. Giuliani serve out the remaining years of his lame-duckdom in City Hall and then take his act to the Borscht Belt. Mr. Giuliani’s true believers, having assembled in the pay toilet outside City Hall, (Hey, the joke about meeting in a telephone booth doesn’t work anymore, O.K.? Nobody under the age of 30 has ever seen a telephone booth, and The Observer ‘s advertising department demands that we cater to their sensibilities because they are young and shallow and have endless amounts of money to waste on products they don’t need), insist that he must be the candidate because he is a recognizable name brand, like Preparation H. If Mrs. Clinton goes through with her candidacy, the state’s Republican Party bosses no doubt will have to concede the point. When running against a famous person, it’s imperative to be just as famous.

“The people who vote in Republican primaries have always placed dogma above electability,” Mr. Severin said. “But there’s evidence that the disdain for Hillary is so intense that we may be seeing a phenomenon whereby Republican primary voters replace ideology with electability as their chief criterion. [They'll say] ‘All right, Rudy’s not conservative, and I’m not sure he’s even a Republican, but he can keep Hillary out of the Senate.’”

So if the Mayor knows what’s good for him, he’ll restrain his comedic instincts on matters Hillary. After all, he wouldn’t want to hurt the feelings of his best friend in the whole wide world.