The Rudy Team Has ’04 Dream: Bush-Giuliani

Bruce Teitelbaum, Rudy Giuliani’s most trusted political adviser, sidled up to a veteran New York operative recently and made a bold pronouncement.

“Bruce said, very openly, that if Rudy Giuliani wants it, he’ll be the Republican Party’s Vice Presidential nominee in 2004,” the operative told The Observer. “And he said that he thinks Giuliani is going to be running in 2008 for President.”

Mr. Teitelbaum has been airing that prediction in political circles for the past several weeks. Of course, the idea might come as a surprise to incumbent Vice President Dick Cheney, whose heart problems have led to speculation that he won’t join President Bush on the ticket in 2004. But Mr. Teitelbaum is not the only friend of Mr. Giuliani talking up the Mayor’s national prospects.

“Do I think he would want to be Vice President? I feel he would like that,” said Howard Koeppel, a wealthy car dealer and close friend of Mr. Giuliani.

“I don’t think Rudy would want to work for the administration if he were offered a cabinet position,” he added. “I think he wants to run something. There have been a lot of Vice Presidents that became Presidents. It would be an opportunity to go to the next level.”

A mere six months after Mr. Giuliani left City Hall, there are increasing signs that he is seeking to ride his post–Sept. 11 popularity all the way to the White House. Even as his allies boost his prospects among insiders, Mr. Giuliani has launched an open-ended national campaign, building a base in the Republican Party by stumping for candidates across the country and becoming one of the most effusive advocates for Mr. Bush. At the same time, he has been maintaining a tireless schedule of public appearances to keep alive memories of the World Trade Center attack–and, by extension, of his own role in guiding the city out of the crisis.

Mr. Giuliani has become a unique figure in American politics. He is at once a national shrink, ministering to the country’s trauma and stress (“The anger, and the resolution of anger, is something people have to confront,” he noted recently), a management guru (his firm, Giuliani Partners, is getting solicitations from across the country) and an all-purpose G.O.P. fund-raising draw (his constant stumping has made him into one of the nation’s most visible Republicans).

“The national party has to make room for this guy,” said Rick Davis, a prominent Republican strategist. “The doors of the party were shut to Rudy for the last 10 years of his career. But he is now the guy who probably has the biggest impact of anyone on a campaign when he goes in to help.”

Mr. Teitelbaum didn’t return calls for comment.

The flatbed truck for Mr. Giuliani’s traveling act is, of course, his performance on and after Sept. 11, which instantly transformed him from a lame-duck Mayor with a turbulent private life into an international celebrity. Since leaving office, Mr. Giuliani has discussed his performance under fire before scores, if not hundreds, of audiences. It’s a subject he never tires of addressing. It figures prominently in speeches and in commercials for Republican candidates across the country.

At times, Mr. Giuliani actively encourages people to keep the tragedy alive in their memories: In a recent interview, for instance, he urged audiences to watch an upcoming HBO documentary on the attacks–a documentary that was not only his idea, but also features images of him striding through the smoking ruins of the Twin Towers.

“Not forgetting it means not forgetting what actually happened,” he said, “as opposed to some highly euphemistic version of it.”

Mr. Giuliani also sprinkled references to his performance on Sept. 11 throughout a speech he recently gave to a crowd of 4,000 cadets at West Point. As the crowd repeatedly interrupted with standing ovations, Mr. Giuliani said: “It’s a war that started in my city. You have to finish this war …. I see the same thing I used to see in my firefighters and police officers in you. You really do remind me of them–the exact same dedication, the exact same spirit.”

Sept. 11 has given Mr. Giuliani the material he needs to bond with the national electorate. His performances after the attacks also produced newfound popularity and fund-raising clout that have allowed him to mend his relationship with national G.O.P. leaders and build up chits with Republicans all over the country. Mr. Giuliani has made no similar effort to build up a base throughout New York State–a fact that strongly suggests that whatever ambitions he has are national in scope.

None of this has escaped the notice of allies of another New Yorker with national ambitions, Governor George Pataki. It’s no secret that Mr. Pataki, who has had a tortured relationship with the former Mayor, views a strong showing in this fall’s gubernatorial election as critical if he is to become a national figure. If Mr. Cheney opts out of a re-election campaign, Mr. Pataki and Mr. Giuliani would be rivals to replace him.

Small wonder, then, that Mr. Pataki’s allies are not about to go along with the Rudy-for-Veep boomlet. “Rudy Giuliani will never be viable nationally,” said Ed Hayes, a supporter of Mr. Pataki. “He may have been good after Sept. 11, but with his marriages and his girlfriend, the Republican right would never buy into him. I actually think Rudy Giuliani would be offensive to them.”

Bush Backer

But Mr. Giuliani’s personal problems seemed far from the minds of attendees at a recent event in Altamonte Springs, Fla. Mr. Giuliani was there for a ceremony at which the state’s biggest firefighters’ union was endorsing the re-election campaign of Governor Jeb Bush. Were it not for the enormous “Bush ’02” signs plastered all over the room, one would have thought that the event’s honoree was Mr. Giuliani himself.

As Mr. Giuliani and Governor Bush strode up to a podium in the packed room, an honor guard greeted the two men. Applause from the assembled firefighters and emergency workers washed over the former Mayor. Florida’s top officials jockeyed to get within camera range of Mr. Giuliani. And Governor Bush’s Washington consultant, Mike Murphy, directed a cameraman and sound crew to capture his client’s appearance with the former Mayor, presumably for use in the Governor’s campaign commercials.

The local reporters seemed at least as preoccupied with Mr. Giuliani’s prospects as with those of Mr. Bush. At one point, they asked the former Mayor what his future held.

“I take the future with a much broader and more fatalistic attitude now,” Mr. Giuliani said. “Whatever happens will happen.”

Governor Bush was less circumspect, suggesting that he was prepared to do his part to help Mr. Giuliani.

“Mayor,” he said, “we don’t have an income tax [in Florida], and there are a lot of New Yorkers here. I’ll be your campaign manager.”

The big unknown is whether Mr. Giuliani’s remarkable celebrity will actually translate into political support for him in the future. For starters, Mr. Giuliani’s liberal positions on social issues, while a boon to him in New York City, will make him anathema to much of the Republican base whose support he would need to be nationally viable. And social conservatives at the national level may be less accepting of his highly public extramarital relationship than New Yorkers have been.

What’s more, every view the national audience has seen of Mr. Giuliani has been through the lens of Sept. 11, through the haze of smoke and fear produced by the attacks. Their first intimate look at Mr. Giuliani came on Sept. 11, as well as from countless fawning minute-by-minute accounts of Mr. Giuliani’s performance in the hours after the disaster. Even his exit interview with Barbara Walters was held against the backdrop of Ground Zero.

The national audience hasn’t yet had its close-up of his less flattering side. “People across the country have seen Giuliani’s toughness put to good use,” said veteran New York consultant Norman Adler. “But they’ve never seen it put to use in the obnoxious way that many New Yorkers have.”

Then there’s the fact that before President Bush would ever invite Mr. Giuliani to join his administration in any capacity whatsoever, he’d have to be willing to overlook the help that the Mayor provided to Mr. Bush’s toughest primary opponent of the 2000 Presidential election–Senator John McCain. And Mr. Giuliani would face stiff competition to fill any vacancy from the likes of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, or even Mr. Pataki, both of whom enjoy much closer personal relationships with the President.

Meanwhile, Mr. Giuliani is plowing ahead with his exhausting schedule. Soon he’ll be playing a leading role in bringing the Republican National Convention to New York, which will grant him another opportunity to extol the performance of New York in the wake of the attacks. And he’s continuing to stump for Republican candidates for every office imaginable, in the process building up a collection of I.O.U.’s that may be without equal in a few years’ time.

“No Republican in the country is a more potent political and fund-raising draw at the moment than Rudy Giuliani, and that includes the President,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican consultant who has worked for both Mr. Giuliani and the Republican National Committee. “Right now, he’s just seen as this strong leader who rises to challenges–everything the Republicans want to be.