As one of his supporters, actor Robert Duvall, might say: Rudy played this one beautifully.
Last week, all Republican politicians worth their weight came out blasting MoveOn.org for taking out a full-page ad in the New York Times smearing Gen. David Petraeus on the day he was scheduled to deliver his Iraq progress report to Congress. The outrage among conservatives only grew as leading Democrats failed to condemn the ad, Hillary Clinton questioned the general’s honesty, and it was disclosed that the far left group was given a drastically reduced advertising rate in the New York Times.
But while other Republicans complained, Rudy Giuliani did something about it. Speaking to reporters in Atlanta on Thursday, Giuliani demanded that the New York Times give his campaign the same discounted rate so it could take out an ad defending Gen. Petraeus and assailing Clinton and MoveOn.org for “character assassination of an American general in a time of war.” He also called on the paper to run the ad at the time of his choosing (Friday, the day after President Bush’s primetime address to the nation).
The next morning, American liberals had to spit out their soy milk while reading their paper of record over breakfast. Within the front section of the newspaper was a full-page ad documenting Petraeus’s stellar military record as well as Clinton and MoveOn.org’s attacks. “Who should America listen to,” the ad asked, “A decorated soldier’s commitment to defending America, or Hillary Clinton’s commitment to defending MoveOn.org?” Even better, Giuliani’s public challenge to the New York Times forced them to give him the same discounted rate.
But Giuliani was just getting warmed up. After making the New York Times buckle under pressure, his campaign released a Web ad contrasting Clinton’s strong comments in support of the 2002 Iraq War Resolution with her attack on Gen. Petraeus last week. While none of her Democratic rivals have been able to lay a finger on Clinton for her opportunistic positions on the war, the Giuliani ad hammered the point home. The Clinton campaign was forced to twist itself into a pretzel by once again trying to assert that when she voted for the Iraq War Resolution, she was actually voting to allow inspectors more time to work, and that despite telling Gen. Petraeus that his reports require a “willing suspension of disbelief” she was not accusing him of being untruthful.
As demoralized conservatives begin to fear that another Clinton presidency is inevitable, this episode demonstrates that Giuliani may represent the Republicans’ best shot at defeating Hillary in next year’s election.
Throughout his career, Giuliani has excelled at relentlessly pursuing opponents, whether in the courtroom or political arena. As a young prosecutor in the 1970s, before he became a celebrity for taking on the mob, he gained notice for his successful prosecution of Democratic Congressman Bertram L. Podell in a bribery trial. The New York Times magazine recounted the dramatic conclusion in a 1985 profile: “Under Giuliani’s intense cross-examination, Podell faltered, became so nervous he poked out his eyeglass lens, asked for a recess and gave up, pleading guilty.”
Giuliani’s background as a prosecutor and gift for speaking plainly and with clarity makes him ideally suited to cut through the type of word parsing for which the Clintons are legendary.
That was on display last week, as Giuliani not only criticized Hillary Clinton as other Republicans did, but also mocked her for the wording of her attack on Gen. Petraeus.
“I’ll tell you what she said, it’s pretty simple,” Giuliani told reporters last Thursday. “You go interpret it, because this is typical — how can I say this in the kindest way about the Clintons? — not the most direct way of saying what it is you’re trying to say.”
He continued, “This is what she said to Gen. Petraeus: ‘I think the reports you provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief.'” Giuliani paused, and then for maximum dramatic effect, repeated the phrase. “The willing suspension of disbelief I imagine means the general wasn’t telling the truth.”
While it is popular for conservatives to lament the existence of the liberal media, Giuliani understands that it is a reality. Rather than belly-ache about it, or, as the Bush administration often has done, ignore attacks by assuming people aren’t paying attention and they will go away, Giuliani understands that conservatives need to simply be better at using the media to their advantage, as he did when he fought entrenched liberal interest groups as mayor.
“If I run against Hillary Clinton, I’m perfectly prepared to carry this battle, not expecting that the New York Times or the major networks…are going to give us anywhere the same kind of favorable coverage they will give her,” Giuliani told Hugh Hewitt last week. “I’m a realist, I’m not saying that in any way where I have a chip on my shoulder. I’ve lived with this all during the time I was mayor of New York City. The reality is we just have to be better at communicating.”
During the Democratic primary Clinton has gotten a free pass on one of her biggest vulnerabilities — that she is just at the start of her second term in the U.S. Senate and has no major accomplishments to speak of — because Barack Obama and John Edwards have even less experience. But Giuliani’s strong executive record and impressive achievements in New York City would highlight Clinton’s relative lack of credentials. As Giuliani has said repeatedly when assessing the Democratic field, they share one thing in common: “they’ve never run a city, state or business.” This is a weakness of Hillary Clinton’s that neither Fred Thompson nor John McCain could exploit, given that their political experience is limited to being legislators.
Mitt Romney can point to executive experience, but he lacks some of Giuliani’s other strengths in a race against Clinton. For one, while Giuliani would be well-suited to expose Clinton for her lawyerly word-parsing, Romney is susceptible to the same criticism as Clinton. Regardless of whether conservatives come to view his conversions on a number of issues as genuine, Romney’s overt shifts will provide ample fodder for the Clinton campaign to use in attack ads, effectively neutralizing any attempt by Republicans to portray Clinton as a phony political opportunist.
Right now, despite the low approval ratings of President Bush and strong opposition to the war in Iraq, Giuliani remains in a statistical dead heat with Clinton, not only nationally, but in blue states including Pennsylvania and New Jersey. While there are certainly many factors that conservatives will have to consider when choosing the Republican nominee, all they have to do is look at the reincarnated HillaryCare plan that is being unveiled today to recognize that the ability of a Republican candidate to defeat Hillary Clinton should be a major consideration.
This looks like a battle Giuliani was born to fight.