With Rudy Giuliani crisscrossing the country in support of Republican candidates and raising money for his new political action committee, it is beginning to look inevitable that he will seek the presidency in 2008. Despite his lead in many early polls, skeptics still dismiss his chances of winning the Republican nomination given his personal background and liberal views on social issues. There is no doubt that these will be obstacles for Giuliani, but compared to the forces that will propel him into the White House, they are small potatoes.
“History is in motion, and those moving with it are so caught up that they cannot always see its broad outlines,” Mark Helprin once wrote. Those who count out Giuliani because of the politics of abortion and gay rights have lost sight of the broad outlines of our age. The fight against terrorism is not only the defining issue of our time, but it represents an epic event in the history of Western civilization. Giuliani is the best leader available to confront the terrorist threat, which is why the course of history points to his becoming president.
Epic periods in history have a tendency to produce leaders who may have once seemed improbable. Winston Churchill was considered washed-up in the 1930s when he spoke of the rising Nazi menace. But history took its inevitable course, and by 1940 Churchill had ascended to the role of Prime Minister, because he was the ideal leader to fight Germany.
LIKE CHURCHILL, Giuliani is a survivor, a fighter, and a man of tremendous will. And just as Churchill’s words guided the British public through solemn hours of German air bombardment, Giuliani became the spokesman for American resolve on the darkest day of the nation’s history.
The mere fact that there is a serious debate over whether or not Giuliani could be elected is a remarkable testament to how inspired Americans were by his leadership on that day. Normally we discuss vice presidents, governors, senators or military leaders as possible presidential candidates. It is rare, if not unprecedented, for a former mayor to be considered as a presidential candidate so earnestly by so many people.
Though it has been nearly five years since Giuliani’s leadership on Sept. 11, a March Quinnipiac University poll found that Giuliani was America’s most popular politician. Despite his stances on social issues, a Gallup Poll earlier this month found him leading all potential Republican primary opponents. On June 13 in Manhattan, Giuliani demonstrated his fundraising potential by raking in $2 million for his new political action committee, Solutions America, in a single evening. That was twice the amount that his chief rival for the Republican nomination, John McCain, raised in New York City the day before.
Sept. 11 was not Giuliani’s first brush with Islamic extremism, and in a sense, his whole career has been building toward a confrontation with terrorism. As a U.S. Attorney, Giuliani investigated the 1985 murder of Leon Klinghoffer, the Jewish New Yorker who was sitting in his wheelchair when he was thrown overboard from the Achille Lauro cruise ship by Palestinian terrorists. Giuliani dedicated a good portion of his 1994 mayoral inauguration speech to the first attack on the World Trade Center. Despite being ridiculed as paranoid, Giuliani built an emergency command center in New York City to prepare for an attack. (The center was poorly located in 7 World Trade Center, which was destroyed with the Twin Towers, but the fact that he was preparing for such threats before Sept. 11 demonstrates that Giuliani was ahead of his time.)
AS HE FOUGHT TO TRANSFORM New York City, the New York Times editorial board and liberal interest groups denounced him every step of the way. Giuliani’s style of forcefully stating his position and going on the offensive during press conferences will win him the respect of conservative primary voters who are fed up with pandering Republican politicians. In fact, this may be the main factor that ends up separating him from McCain, whose reputation as a maverick has been built on taking positions that made him into a liberal media darling.
Giuliani is more than just a tough talker. Throughout his career, whether it was as a mob prosecutor, a crime fighting mayor or an entrepreneur, Giuliani has shown an ability to think creatively about solving problems. And since Sept. 11, no politician has spoken with more depth or intelligence about the nature of the terrorist threat. This will become apparent during any televised debate with Republican opponents.
Two years is an eternity in politics, no doubt. But no matter what happens between now and then, the threat of terrorism, unfortunately, will still be with us and remain the defining issue of the campaign. Given Giuliani’s record of overcoming long odds, of achieving things that many people once viewed as impossible, it is startling that anybody would dismiss his chances of becoming president. Those who do so are not only severely underestimating the man, but they are misjudging the trajectory of history.
Philip Klein writes from New York. You can contact him through his website: www.philipklein.com.