It’s not everyday that you have the opportunity to have breakfast with the man who might be the next leader of the free world, but that was exactly the position I was in last week when I was invited, along with about twenty other people, to have breakfast with Rudy Giuliani in Newport Beach, California. Rudy—like a certain woman on the other side of the aisle, the first name is enough—is holding breakfasts like the one I attended all over the country to gauge support for a possible presidential bid in 2008. What follows are my impressions, reflections and questions about the man who shepherded New York through 9/11 with fearless leadership and who, if the chips fall his way, might be working in the Oval Office come late January 2009.
PRESIDENT IN WAR TIME: NO FOREIGN POLICY EXPERIENCE NECESSARY?
Rudy is working hard to shore up what he sees as a potential problem for his campaign: a lack of foreign policy experience. Since his tenure as mayor of New York City ended, he has made some 50 trips abroad to 31 different countries. But does racking up frequent flier miles really prepare you for the White House? Not exactly, but Rudy says he gained a great deal of international experience managing the multi-ethic brewing pot that is New York City. That comment reminded me a bit of something Pat Buchanan said about Bill Clinton during the 1992 presidential campaign. Buchanan said something along the lines of, “Bill thinks he has an understanding of multiple cultures because he often has breakfast at the International House of Pancakes.” Well, Clinton must have had a lot of IHOP breakfasts that year, because he found a way to win in 1992. Will Rudy experience similar success? Don’t bet on it. New York City might be a broadly diverse place, and running that city is certainly an enormous task, but it’s a far cry from occupying the White House in a time of war against Islamic radicalism, not to mention at a time when China is emerging as a superpower. Unlike the 1992 and 2000 elections, the 2008 election will be about electing a war-time president. Burnishing your credentials in foreign policy experience will most likely make all the difference.
IRAQ: MORE TROOPS NEEDED FOR VICTORY?
Rudy believes we must increase our troop strength in Iraq if we are going to prevail in this crucial front in the battle for the Middle East. Winning, Giuliani says, is the only option. That is refreshing to hear. How would he do it? Well, just as he added more police on the streets of New York City, he would add more ground troops in Iraq. In my gut, I agree with that philosophy. I think we’ve tiptoed around enough: If we’re going to stay there we need to have an overwhelming force to get the job done right. Rudy hopes that after the November elections that President Bush will call for an increase in U.S. troops in Iraq. Either way, given today’s political climate, it’s hard to envision a time when sending more troops to Iraq is a winning political message.
ENERGY INDEPENDENCE: STOP THE FINANCING OF TERRORISTS
Energy independence would be a central plank of any Rudy campaign. At breakfast he noted that it has been over 30 years since a major refinery has been built in the U.S. There’s little doubt that building refineries would go along way toward increasing our domestic capacities and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Long term though, we need to invest in alternative energy sources. Rudy thinks that energy independence is important enough that President Bush should strive to make it part of his legacy before he leaves office in 2009. But in all likelihood, it’s past the point in the Bush presidency to make a “legacy” out of any issue other than the war on Islamic radicalism. The next president will inherit part of that legacy, but also have a chance to carve out one of his own. For Rudy, it might be energy independence something he deems a national security issue: We need to stop financing the terrorists, he said. To that I say, “Amen.”
IRAN: TOUGH TALK, NO SOLUTIONS
Rudy wants to be tough with Iran. He said it is not an option for Iran to develop nuclear capability. What I didn’t hear though was how, exactly, he would go about halting Iran’s march toward nuclear armament. I could see that he wanted to be tough, but I wasn’t sure exactly how he would channel that toughness into coherent policy. But lest we forget: Rudy went after New York City mobsters with controlled fury; we know he’s not afraid of playing hardball. That could be just what we need with Iran. But the concern I have is one that one of the breakfast attendees said after the meeting. “He reminds me of a tough guard dog,” he said. There’s little doubt that our next president will need to be tough, but he will also need to be wise and thoughtful. Dealing with national security and global politics is like three dimensional chess—there are a lot of moving pieces, and each one requires a different approach, a range of strategic approaches. The next president will not only need to be tough minded but will also need to be a real bridge builder.
SOCIAL ISSUES: YOU’RE NOT IN NEW YORK CITY ANYMORE
Rudy is unabashedly pro-choice. Indeed, he believes being pro-choice is a Republican virtue. His philosophy could be summed up as liberty in the hands of individuals who are free to make decisions that do not harm others. He did not answer the question, of course, of whether a fetus is a living being who is being fatally harmed during an abortion. Pro-choice Republicanism might play well in New York City, but it’s a much tougher—if not impossible—sell in the South and much of the Midwest.
As far as California goes as a whole, I think Rudy stands a great chance of bringing back the golden state to a red posting on election night. His fiscally responsible and socially liberal policies will appeal to many of the centrist Republicans and Independents in the state. Since 1 in 8 people live in California in the U.S., that’s a big plus.
I left the breakfast thinking that Rudy is going to be a formidable candidate. He had at least 10 staff present for the breakfast and has recruited some key fundraisers from the Bush campaigns. He is tough, practical and has the real possibility of carrying both red and blue states—if he can get out of a primary alive.
Getting out of the primaries will prove especially difficult once Rudy’s personal life is broached. Rudy was openly having an affair (and going through a divorce) while in office. If you believe like I do that a person’s private life serve as an indicator for how that man will make moral decisions in the public arena, then you have some serious problems with a Rudy candidacy. But I don’t think the problems surrounding his personal life disqualify him from the get-go. Americans tend to be a forgiving bunch. And in a time when Islamic radicalism seems to be spreading across the world like wildfire, they might just choose that “tough guard dog” over everybody else.