Rudy Giuliani was back in New York this week, but he found himself on unfamiliar ground.
On Tuesday afternoon in the Princeton Club, Mr. Giuliani placed himself before a screen displaying a map of the United States and delivered a dry policy speech that advocated the diversification of America’s energy resources.
After he dispensed with his usual standard remarks about the Yankees and the city’s response to the Sept. 11 attacks, pockets of a sympathetic audience invited by the former Mayor’s friends in the Manhattan Institute seemed to lose their concentration. He meandered through the rest, stumbling over his words, and drifting away from the microphone to point at California and Texas.
“So, um, the more diversification there is, the better chance there is that we can remain safe and be able to expand this,” said Mr. Giuliani, who sounded like a student getting a grasp on a required but difficult subject.
Later that same evening, Mr. Giuliani raised $2 million at a plush fund-raiser at the Four Seasons for his political-action committee. It was the first he’d held since January of last year.
At one point during the event, Kenneth Langone, the co-founder of Home Depot and a major political fund-raiser, got up to invite the guests to pose for pictures with the former Mayor. “It will prove to be a historic picture in three or four years,” said Mr. Langone, “when we can say we remember when it all started.”
Mr. Giuliani, soaring in the polls and free of the political baggage of an officeholder, looks very much like someone preparing to move beyond the role of national cheerleader and into a bid for national office.
It brings up one question, though: Is this also the beginning of the end of the Giuliani bubble?
Mr. Giuliani, after all, has yet to return to earth after the former Mayor’s virtual beatification following Sept. 11. In the five years since the country rallied around his display of gutsy leadership, “America’s Mayor” has inhabited something of a political paradise.
The fact that he doesn’t hold public office—and has yet to formalize his intentions to run for President—has effectively rendered him immune from criticism. His close and emotionally charged association with 9/11 lends an unequalled authority to his national-security speeches and has propelled the 62-year-old to greater heights of celebrity than he ever enjoyed as Mayor.
He has been in great demand on the fund-raising circuit and is making millions collecting speaking or consulting fees through his Giuliani Partners consulting firm. And, not insignificantly, he has consistently been at or near the top of the polls of prospective Presidential candidates from either party. In a Quinnipiac poll released on June 5, Mr. Giuliani scored highest among potential Presidential candidates and enjoyed significant bipartisan support.
It is, in many ways, too good to last.
“The second he declares his candidacy, the dam breaks,” said Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. “He is fair game, and things get ugly fast.”
Mr. Giuliani, needless to say, is in no rush to change things.
“Part of the thought process in deciding whether you should run or not is to feel that there must be something unique you can contribute, and that takes a lot of thought and a lot of reflection,” Mr. Giuliani told The Observer on the sidewalk outside the Princeton Club. “It’s a very big decision, so I’m going to give myself all the summer and the fall and get educated by traveling around the country, supporting other Republicans.”
And why shouldn’t he take his time?
“There is no downward pressure on him at this time; nobody is shooting at him,” said Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster. “Why enter now and give them an extra 12 months to beat you up? It makes a lot more sense to shorten that timeframe as much as possible.”
Mr. Giuliani, not surprisingly, has been coy about revealing his Presidential ambitions. All the money he raises, all the towns he visits around the country, and all the meetings with Republican leaders, his aides insist, are simply for the good of the party.
By that measure, Mr. Giuliani is proving to be an exceedingly selfless politician.
On Sunday night, he dined with Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in the private “Wine Room” of Davio’s, an Italian restaurant in Boston. Aides to both men said it was nothing more than a quiet dinner between friends, though the two have helped each other out politically before. In 2002, Mr. Giuliani raised money for Mr. Romney, who is also considered a potential Presidential candidate.
On Thursday evening, at Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka’s restaurant in Chicago, Mr. Giuliani raised money for David McSweeney, a Republican seeking a Congressional seat in Illinois.
“He is like a conquering hero walking into a fund-raiser,” said Mr. McSweeney, whose first call after winning the Republican primary was to Mr. Giuliani’s chief strategist, Anthony Carbonetti. With the help of Mr. Giuliani, Mr. McSweeney said, he raised nearly $70,000—the highest amount of money he has raised so far. The reason, Mr. McSweeney added, was simple: “People will never forget what Rudy Giuliani did on 9/11.”
Mr. Giuliani’s critics, long tired of the persistent glow surrounding the former Mayor, have already begun giving him the campaign treatment.
“One event cannot make the person, especially if they intend to go national,” said Congressman Charles Rangel, referring to Mr. Giuliani’s performance after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. “If you get in the kitchen, it is going to be steaming with heat.”
And, other Democrats predict, the bubble will deflate as soon as Mr. Giuliani actually tries to leverage his post–Sept. 11 popularity into a Presidential run.
“The question is does it pop, or is there a long, slow ooze of air out of it?” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster. “Let’s put it this way: If he does run, by the time he finishes that campaign, he is going to be a lot less popular than he is today.”
It’s not just Democrats who see the high ground beginning to shift under Mr. Giuliani’s feet.
According to an article in Saturday’s Washington Post, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggested that Mr. Giuliani was not a viable candidate by referring to a “vacuum” of Republican candidates atop the polls.
And in a recent Gallup poll that showed Mr. Giuliani trailing only Senator John McCain among potential Republican Presidential candidates, the former Mayor’s numbers all but vanished when the question was asked without prompting respondents with the names of prospective nominees.
“A lot of Republicans don’t think of Giuliani as a candidate,” said Frank Newport, who conducted the poll.
The minute voters do see Mr. Giuliani maneuvering to get into the Presidential race, he’ll be obliged to start providing more policy specifics on controversial issues like immigration reform.
“It appears that he has been able to get away with saying nothing on immigration,” said Mr. Fabrizio, the Republican pollster. “John McCain certainly has a position on it. Hillary Clinton certainly has a position; George Allen certainly has a position. One of the only leading Republicans not to take a position on one of the hottest issues right now is Rudy Giuliani.”
Mr. Giuliani’s aides dismiss such criticism.
“He is all over the country answering the questions of real people,” said his spokeswoman, Sunny Mindel. “He has spoken out on immigration; he has spoken on Iraq and Zarqawi. Saturday, he spoke about the memorial. He is talking about stuff.”
For now, there seems to be little downside to what he’s doing.
“He’s making millions and millions and millions,” said Mr. Sabato. “All that goes out the window the second he declares. He’s enjoying it, and everywhere he goes there are standing ovations.”
Georgette Mosbacher, a major Republican fund-raiser who has donated to Mr. Giuliani’s campaign and who attended the Four Seasons event, had this to say about Mr. Giuliani’s bubble: “It lasts until he declares that he is running. And that status that he now has, that hero worship—he’s going to have all of those other candidates and their opposition research and their strategists figuring every way on earth to tear that down.”