Giuliani’s descent began in New Hampshire in late 2007 — and I was there to witness it

Rudy Giuliani at the 2016 RNC. Photo (cc) 2016 by Gage Skidmore.

Ever since Rudy Giuliani took the podium at the 2016 Republican National Convention and started screaming incoherently, I’ve wondered: What happened? Of course, he’s only gotten worse since then, devolving into Donald Trump’s ultimate toady. In Sunday’s New York Times, Andrew Kirtzman traces Giuliani’s fall (free link) to his failed 2008 presidential campaign, a failure that he writes set off years of depression and heavy drinking.

As it happens, in December 2007 I covered a Giuliani event in New Hampshire for The Guardian, a moment when he was in mid-flop. So did my friend and old Boston Phoenix running mate, Seth Gitell, who was at that time working as a columnist for The New York Sun. We drove up together. You can read Seth’s piece here. Below is my Guardian piece, which is also still online. I’ve left the Britishisms intact. Rudy, you coulda been a contendah.

Tactical retreat

By pulling out of New Hampshire, Rudy Giuliani may live to campaign another day

By Dan Kennedy | The Guardian | Dec. 18, 2007

Rudy Giuliani made news in Durham, New Hampshire on Monday. But unless you’re attuned to the inside game as played by the political class and the media, you might have missed it.

The former New York mayor brought his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination to Goss International, a printing-press manufacturer located in an office park on the outskirts of this small, snow-blanketed college town. Giuliani bounded on stage, about a half-hour late, spoke for a few minutes and took questions from employees.

In person, Giuliani can be compelling. If what he had to say was a familiar and predictable blend of free-market nostrums and 9/11, the way he said it was nevertheless worth paying attention to. He manages to come off as informal and conversational while still speaking in complete sentences; to bond with the crowd while retaining an air of authority.

But Giuliani, ahead in the national polls for months, is suddenly in trouble, especially in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, whose first-in-the-nation primary will be held on January 8. His blueprint all along has been to hang in until big states like Florida hold their primaries. It was always a dubious plan, since early success generates momentum that is hard to stop.

Add to that a passel of problems — from the federal indictment on corruption charges of his former police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, to a kerfuffle over taxpayer-funded security provided to his third wife, Judith Nathan, back when she was his mistress — and Giuliani is suddenly looking a whole lot less inevitable than he did during the summer and fall. The news this week was that Giuliani was pulling back on his advertising in New Hampshire, a move that could be described as tactically necessary but strategically desperate.

So it was actually the most innocuous-sounding sound bite Giuliani provided that had the most news value. “I’ll be spending some of my Christmas holiday here in New Hampshire,” he said toward the end of his talk. He made a joke about skiing, too. Was Giuliani still planning to make a serious play for New Hampshire?

“Rudy Giuliani is not pulling out of New Hampshire,” insisted his state campaign chairman, Wayne Semprini, as a gaggle of reporters surrounded him after Giuliani had left the room. Semprini added that “55-60% of the people are still undecided,” holding out the prospect of a late surge for Rudy.

Next the journalists started talking with each other. Brad Puffer of New England Cable News stuck a microphone in front of New York Sun columnist Seth Gitell, a Bostonian and an old friend with whom I had made the trek north that morning. Gitell described Giuliani’s Christmas-holiday remark as “a symbolic attempt to maintain some presence in New Hampshire”. David Saltonstall, who’s covering Giuliani for the New York Daily News, told me it looked as though the former mayor was trying to keep his campaign in New Hampshire alive while simultaneously cutting back. “He’s walking kind of a tightrope with voters here, I think,” Saltonstall said.

It’s the perverse game of expectations, which often proves to be more important than the actual result. If Giuliani is perceived as having scaled down his campaign here but still manages to do well — say, coming in second to Mitt Romney, whose victory would be discounted because he’s the former governor of Massachusetts, a bordering state — then he could live to fight another day. (The flavour of the moment, Mike Huckabee, is not likely to be a factor in New Hampshire, where his fundamentalist religious views are nearly as unpopular with local Republicans as taxes and restrictions on gun ownership.)

Predictions are futile. Four years ago, I came to New Hampshire to watch John Kerry perform at an event that I described as an elegy for a campaign that had failed to anticipate the rise of Howard Dean. A few weeks later, Dean had collapsed and Kerry had all but wrapped up the Democratic nomination. Giuliani could win. Stranger things have happened.

But Giuliani’s problem is that he may have peaked too soon. No one expects Huckabee to win the nomination, but Romney, John McCain and even Fred Thompson all seem to be exploiting the turmoil created by Huckabee’s rise more adroitly than Giuliani has.

Giuliani told the lunch-time crowd that his platform comes down to two broad themes: “being on offence against Islamic terrorism and being on offence for a growth economy”. Trouble is, when it comes to politics, Giuliani these days is strictly on defence.

One thought on “Giuliani’s descent began in New Hampshire in late 2007 — and I was there to witness it

  1. Bill

    I believe at some point Mr. Giuliani suffered an undiagnosed stroke. This is not the straight talking candidate I voted for mayor. The person I see now is an insult to decency and truth. No one could change that much.

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