Political philosopher Thomas Hobbes once described the State of Nature, a hypothetical scenario in which people lived outside of the protection of laws and government, as “‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” I was going to joke that Hobbes could just as easily have been describing Rudy Giuliani, but then I decided that my joke wasn’t fair: between collecting fees from potentially shady Ukrainian businessmen and making millions doing whatever it is he does for President Trump, Giuliani isn’t poor.
(And before anyone gets mad at me, I’m 4 inches shorter than Giuliani, so I can make height jokes).
Giuliani’s reputation has most definitely turned in some not favorable directions over the course of his career. During the 1990s, NYC Mayor Giuliani was seen as the guy who cleaned up New York from the hellhole of griminess, crime and pornography you saw in every 80s movie ever to the shining upper-class city you watched on Sex and the City or New Year’s Eve (the fact that none of these were accurate depictions of New York didn’t matter). Giuliani could simultaneously be the guy who applied the “tough on crime” mindset of the 80s and 90s to the nation’s biggest city, while also being affable enough to guest on an episode of Seinfeld or appear in drag for a comedy sketch (the sketch, by the way, centers on Donald Trump, playing himself, sexually harassing and assaulting the woman played by Giuliani, which is played for laughs. I’m not making this up: Watch it for yourself).
The New York Times recently published an op-ed by Ken Frydman, Giuliani’s press secretary from his first winning mayoral campaign in 1993, in which the spokesman claims that what he sees now of his former boss is not the same man he worked for (Frydman tries to pinpoint Giuliani’s transformation, suggesting his troubled third marriage or the recent death of a longtime political advisor as turning points). While such a narrative from someone with so much history with Giuliani is compelling (Frydman opens the piece by explaining how he met his wife through the campaign, and that the couple was then married by Giuliani), this narrative is also false. The Washington Post did a similar story two years ago, which pointed out that Giuliani’s political dark side and shameless ambition have long histories.
This is the same Giuliani that many of us (read: black people) knew was awful. It was under his watch that “broken window policing” and “stop and frisk” (or, to use more accurate language, racial profiling and police harassment) became standard operating procedure for the NYPD, and Amadou Diallo, an unarmed black man, was shot to death by police for the crime of standing outside his own home (Giuliani dismissed protests concerning Diallo’s killing – a precursor to the modern Black Lives Matter movement – as “silly”).
Of course, it was September 11, 2001 that recast Rudy Giuliani as “America’s Mayor” and Time Magazine’s 2001 Person of the Year, and Giuliani was elevated to a new level of national prominence. It’s not necessary, and kind of tasteless, to question the sincerity or effects of his efforts to take care of first responders and help the city heal after the attack. It’s fair, however, to point out the extent to which Giuliani milked this new reputation, using it to launch a failed 2008 presidential campaign. During the race, Joe Biden famously mocked Giuliani with the quip that all of the former mayor’s sentences consisted of “a noun, a verb, and 9/11” (I don’t remember if Biden dropped his mic after the remark, so I’ll just assume he did).
The 2008 campaign represented the culmination of a long quest for power that saw Giuliani rising through the political ranks in a pretty impressive way and making various moral and political compromises along the way (in a biography written about Giuliani, his first ex-wife and his mother essentially say that he was at heart a Democrat who switched party affiliations to further his career). He hit the ceiling of his presidential ambitions (something he fantasized about since childhood, according to the Washington Post piece), but found the next best thing by attaching himself to the eventual President Donald Trump, his old “isn’t groping women hilarious?” buddy from New York.
Trump keeps Giuliani around because the former Mayor provides the two things that Trump finds absolutely essential for his most trusted employees: fawning devotion and unquestioning loyalty. Giuliani was one of the people who came out as an early supporter of candidate Trump before the GOP establishment was forced to embrace the Donald. Now, he’s the guy who will shamelessly argue on national television that Trump did not commit some egregious act, and immediately pivot to arguing that even if he did do it, it wasn’t illegal or wrong. Giuliani is willing to expend the last shreds of his credibility as a former federal prosecutor to make politically motivated, evidence-lacking charges against Trump’s past and present political opponents like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.
Through all this, there is one important way in which Rudy Giuliani has changed; his principle-free and often petty form of politics has become significantly less effective. Like him or hate him, it was undeniable in the 1990s and early 2000s that he was a successful politician decimating the New York mafia families as a federal prosecutor (which almost got him targeted for assassination), and then gaining widespread support as a Republican mayor in New York City who appealed to both conservatives through his policing policies and liberals through his support of same-sex couples’ rights. In recent years, however, he’s essentially been a caricature of his former self. The reasoned legal arguments of a former federal prosecutor have given way to incoherent yelling at reporters on news shows (just Google “Giuliani shouts” As a matter of fact, here, I did it for you). He regularly contracts himself or misspeaks, spouting half-truths and lies that are easy to fact check.
And yet, so far none of that has stopped him from enjoying the confidence of the President. Even if he’s careless enough to, say, refer to the travel ban as a Muslim Ban (you’re not supposed to say that in public, Giuliani), he’s devoted enough to defend the policy tooth and nail. For Trump, who’s often more concerned with popularity and image than outcomes, this enthusiastic devotion is more important than effectiveness. If the Ukraine scandal does evolve into an actual impeachment, Giuliani’s unusual and highly dubious involvement will likely be a central piece of the case against the President. And although Trump is notoriously fickle and has little qualms about throwing even loyal subordinates under a bus (as he’s already kind of done with Mike Pence and Rick Perry in this scandal – loyalty is a one way street for Trump), as long as Giuliani is willing to be Trump’s defender and hatchet man – loudly and consistently, in defiance of Congress, principles and common sense – he’ll likely have a place in this administration.