Rudy Sounds the Alarm Again

Rudy Giuliani lives for weekends like this.

The Obama administration’s decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other 9/11 defendants in federal court gave the former mayor a chance to showcase his Tough Guy act on three separate Sunday morning shows.

On “Fox News Sunday,” ABC’s “This Week,” and CNN’s “State of the Union,” Giuliani played up the fear and emotion, hyping the security risks that the trial could pose to everyday New Yorkers and accusing the president of “getting away from the fact that we are at war with these terrorists.”

Giuliani was surely thrilled with the free publicity, but his Sunday show tour mainly underscored how flimsy and contradictory his fear-mongering is – and how it’s really the only bond that links him to today’s national Republican Party.

Take, for instance, his effort to portray the trial as a threat to New York residents. On CNN, he chuckled when John King asked him whether trying the accused terrorists in New York would put the city’s residents at risk. “Yes,” Giuliani replied. “Of course it would.” But he also admitted on “This Week” that “New York can handle it. There’s no question about it.”

That observation – that “New York can handle it” – happens to be shared by Mayor Bloomberg, who has endorsed the administration’s plan and called it “fitting” that 9/11 suspects will stand trial in New York. Nor is Bloomberg the only prominent New York politician to support the move: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (not surprisingly, given her position) voiced her support on “This Week.”

As Bloomberg and others have noted, New York has played host to terrorism trials before, without public safety being compromised. There’s no rational reason to believe this will suddenly change – as Rudy himself momentarily acknowledged on “This Week.”

Giuliani’s larger point – that it’s more desirable to try terrorists in military courts than in civilian courts – is at least arguable. But he wasn’t selling a rational argument on Sunday; he was selling fear and hysteria.

It’s not as if Giuliani has always reacted this way to the idea of terrorists being tried in criminal courts. As ABC’s George Stephanopoulos pointed out on Sunday, just three years ago Giuliani responded the federal court conviction of Zacarias Moussaoui by saying, “I was in awe of our system…It does demonstrate that we can give people a fair trial, that we are exactly what we say we are. We are a nation of law.”

In response, Giuliani told Stephanopoulos that criminal court “would be good enough for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but the reality is there’s another alternative” – a military tribunal. Which is certainly true. But the fact that Giuliani once hailed Moussaoui’s conviction as a symbol of the American system of justice suggests that his objections to Obama’s decision don’t warrant the heat and emotion that he’s employing.

After all, the administration also announced Friday that another terrorism case will be tried before a military commission. So Obama is basically cherry-picking cases – choosing to bring slam-dunks to federal court in an effort to make the same point that Giuliani expressed after Moussaoui’s conviction.

Of course, if Rudy took a measured and rational approach to this topic – if he simply admitted that New York can handle the trial and that it’s an opportunity to prove the strength and vitality of the American system – his status as a Republican in good standing with his national party would expire. Because outside of 9/11 politics, he’s never had much in common with the national G.O.P.

It’s been noted countless times that as of September 10, 2001, New Yorkers had grown tired of Giuliani’s reign and were ready for him to go – and that his commanding, comforting television during and after the 9/11 attacks changed all of that.

Something similar happened with his relationship to the national Republican Party. Prior to 9/11, he was the pariah mayor, best known for endorsing Mario Cuomo, backing Bill Clinton’s hated crime bill, suing the gun industry, supporting abortion rights, and living with a gay couple. 9/11 made him – for the first time in his life – a nationally viable Republican.

His post 9/11 political strategy was simple: Play down all of those differences with conservative orthodoxy and play up the one area where he and the right overlap: hawkish national security and foreign policy instincts.

And now, after his awful 2008 presidential campaign, he’s still playing the same game. And why not? National Republicans didn’t vote for him, but they still like him – enough to cheer him wildly when he delivered the keynote address at last year’s convention. The deal is simple: Rudy trades on his 9/11 stature to give voice to the right’s most paranoid national security and foreign policy beliefs, and the national G.O.P. continues to treat him as one of their leaders.

So when a weekend like this one rolls around, it’s not at all surprising to find Giuliani on national television keeping up his end of the deal.

  Rudy Sounds the Alarm Again