Rudy’s Big Week: Ex-Mayor Hurtles To 2008 Candidacy

On the evening of Sunday, Aug. 29, financier Henry Kravis was hosting some high-powered guests in his Park Avenue apartment. Roaming the room were Rudy Giuliani and Vice President Dick Cheney, mingling with about two dozen Republican donors and tycoons. The Vice President’s wife was chatting with a few guests when she caught a glimpse of the former Mayor and interrupted the chitchat.

“Excuse me for one minute,” Lynne Cheney told them. “I have to make sure I talk to Mayor Giuliani.”

And Mrs. Cheney is not alone among the Republican royalty. President George W. Bush will be the nominee this week, but Mr. Giuliani is the one holding court, the one every G.O.P. macher breaks off a conversation to meet. His status a clear sign of how this week has completed the second stage of Mr. Giuliani’s transformation. On Sept. 11, 2001, the flagging Mayor became an American hero. This week in New York, he successfully molded his hero status back into political form, making himself the Republican Party’s brightest star and President Bush’s most effective spokesman. Tan, funny and confident on the Republican National Convention’s spare stage, Mr. Giuliani danced around the wooden podium like a boxer and delivered what many around him considered the best performance of his career.

Mr. Giuliani holds a personal monopoly on the memory of Sept. 11. But until Monday night, he ran the risk of being trapped by its legacy, becoming a prop in the Republican pageant but little more. On Monday night, he demonstrated that he can channel the power of that memory without being burned by it, as President Bush was by the 9/11 commission and as Governor George Pataki was when a Democratic challenger, Andrew Cuomo, charged that he’d only held Mr. Giuliani’s coat.

Who else could get away with being introduced at a political convention by the bereaved families of the victims? Who else could deliver this emotion-laden endorsement-coming soon, we have to think, to a massive campaign advertising buy in the swing states?

“At the time, we believed we would be attacked many more times that day and in the days that followed,” the former Mayor recalled to a hushed crowd. “Without really thinking, based on just emotion, spontaneously, I grabbed the arm of then–Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and I said to him, ‘Bernie, thank God George Bush is our President.’ And I say it again tonight: ‘Thank God George Bush is our President.’”

That may have been the speech’s climax, but it was the whole 39-minute stem-winder-complete with mimicry of John Kerry’s bass voice and an impersonation of a burly construction worker-that drew the crowd close. Mr. Giuliani even thought to ad lib a line about the terror risk to Chicago, Miami and “rural areas” so no one would feel left out.

“I thought he gave the best speech of his life, and it sort of elevated him to another life,” said Vincent La Padula, one of Mr. Giuliani’s former top aides. “It was like when we won in 1994 and 1997-in the room, it felt like a campaign victory.”

Mr. Giuliani is a magnetic figure in the Republican crowd, and the setting seemed to intensify his already-powerful media celebrity. When he took his seat in the New York delegation, for example, television cameras swung away from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was delivering his welcome. Turning their backs on the stage, the camera crews focused on Mr. Giuliani in the front row. The former Mayor tried to answer a few questions, but had to be rushed out of the hall as the media crush grew quickly out of control. Later, a handful of reporters clustered around his press secretary, Sunny Mindel, to record his comments secondhand from her tape recorder.

Mr. Giuliani retreated to the sanctuary of private receptions for much of the convention, and the hardest ticket to get Monday night wasn’t to the Governor’s much-hyped “Pataki Pass” reception, but to the unofficial party that Monster.com threw for Mr. Giuliani at the Grand Havana Room. (Mayor Bloomberg may be the only one who passed on an invitation to the smoky cigar club.) Meanwhile, reporters scurried around Madison Square Garden polling exotic delegates on the Giuliani question: If he decides to run for President, could this guy-so liberal, so sharp-edged, so (did you see those hand gestures?) ethnic-could he play in Oklahoma? In Iowa? In Texas?

But the delegates seemed to see through the hypothetical.

Ray Hoffmann, a stern-looking Iowan, seemed a bit incredulous at the premise of the question.

” If ?” he said. “I’m sure we’re going to see him run.”

Jim Hairston, a Mississippi banker, dismissed the notion that Mr. Giuliani’s liberal stances on abortion and gay rights could hurt him. “I think Republicans will be looking at leadership qualities,” he said, before making a bid for his own champion, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.

“Giuliani-Barbour-that would be quite a ticket. Think about it,” he said.

The year 2008, when Republicans select their next nominee from a wide-open field, always seems a bit less than four years away for Mr. Giuliani, and the politicians around him can’t seem to help bringing it up.

“Giuliani and McCain-some people refer to them as ‘the ticket,’” former Senator Fred Thompson, of Law and Order fame, told a Cipriani fund-raiser on Monday. “I think they’ll have to get together and work out the billing,” he added later.

One of Mr. Giuliani’s strongest performances of the convention came Sunday afternoon at Chelsea Piers, where the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) held a reception for dozens of members of Congress. The crowd chattered through a speech by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and whispered through a call to arms from President Bush’s campaign manager, Ken Mehlman. But Mr. Giuliani brought the room of about 1,000 to complete silence, and even the men serving hot dogs and corned beef put down their tongs and turned their backs on the smorgasbord to watch the Mayor speak.

To this friendly audience, Mr. Giuliani laid out a narrative that exemplifies another, quieter strength of his. Among American politicians, he’s a rare one who can talk about terrorism without reverting to clichés about those who “hate freedom.” Instead, he tells a story that begins with Palestinian terrorism in the late 1960′s and whose form becomes clear with the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics-and the later release by the Germans of three of their killers.

This is the basic neoconservative narrative of terrorism, leading to a conclusion that peace is only possible through strength. Mr. Giuliani began trying it out in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in May, but it seems to have firmed up recently along the lines of a controversial new essay by neocon founding father and Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz. That essay, which labels America’s battles in Afghanistan and Iraq the opening of “World War IV,” is a defense and an explanation of President Bush’s foreign policy, and Mr. Giuliani seems to have adopted it with only one major change: Where Mr. Podhoretz blames the West in general for coddling terrorists, chiding even Ronald Reagan, Mr. Giuliani dwells on Europe.

“The European rule is to release terrorists,” he told the AIPAC crowd, a sentiment he would repeat from the stage at Madison Square Garden.

The Europeans weren’t the only demons Mr. Giuliani planned to conjure for the rapt crowd, however. Can’t forget Hillary Clinton, whom he’d preceded that morning on NBC’s Meet the Press .

“Hillary and I agree on two things,” he said. Both politicians, he said with a smirk, are Yankee fans. “The second thing is, we’re both going to vote for George W. Bush.”

When Mr. Giuliani is this hot, his digs-at Ms. Clinton, at Mr. Kerry, at Europe-are deadly. But his jab at Ms. Clinton’s ambition could cut the other way as well. Mr. Giuliani has been campaigning tirelessly for President George W. Bush, but the former Mayor might be better off if Mr. Bush loses. Mr. Giuliani’s rock-star potency might be better suited to the wide-open field of a Republican insurgency, not the quieter drama of winning the favor of an incumbent President.

Either way, the slog through the Republican base could still be a challenge for Mr. Giuliani. On Tuesday morning, as he left an emotional breakfast session with the Iowa delegation-of all states!-one intent blond delegate slipped a piece of paper into his hand. It was a photocopy topped with a beaming picture of Luana Stoltenberg, and telling the story of how “my life has been devastated by abortion.”

Although talk of single-issue voters is considered a bit passé, here was one in the flesh. Mr. Giuliani’s pro-choice stance would be a deal-breaker, Ms. Stoltenberg said. But she thought her flyer might help to educate him. “I would like to see him change his stance on abortion,” she said.

Meet the Press ‘ Tim Russert gave Mr. Giuliani the same hard time about his place in the Republican Party, running the former Mayor through a checklist of Republican platform planks: gays, guns, abortion, stem cells-nope, nope, nope, nope.

Then Mr. Russert raised the touchy question of Mr. Giuliani’s relationship with his own party: Is he really its star, or just its fad?

Gay Republicans, said Mr. Russert, say “you can’t craft a vicious, mean-spirited platform, then try to put lipstick on the pig by putting Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger on in prime time.”

“Which am I, the pig or the lipstick?” Mr. Giuliani responded. “I’m not sure.”