One recent Friday evening, after a cup of broccoli soup, a plate of chicken and a few sips of red wine, Rudy Giuliani took to the stage in the ballroom of the Executive Court banquet hall and prepared to let loose.
With Mitt Romney leading the primary polls by a mile in New Hampshire, and Barack Obama in the White House, the former mayor and dud presidential candidate of 2008 wanted to talk about leadership.
“This president has been a failure in just about every single thing he’s done,” Giuliani told the 100 or so die-hard Republicans who had come for the Manchester GOP’s annual Lincoln Reagan dinner. “He has ruined our economy. He is ruining our health care.”
As he got rolling, the arms of his dark suit gesticulated wildly around his emerald green tie. He called attention to his bullet points with a prodding finger, leaned on the podium, stepped out from beside it, removed and replaced his glasses for comic effect and, at one point, raised a big outstretched palm and brought it crushing down upon our liberties.
On the president’s handling of Libya, he said he had “never witnessed a worse case of presidential decision making. Or lack of decision making. Or conduct of foreign policy. Ever.”
And he criticized the president for leaving it to Congress to hash out the health care bill, and for not leading enough on energy policy. “Because he’s a follower,” Giuliani said. He mocked a stutter to capture Obama’s perceived hesitancy to implementing a no-fly zone, which, in Giuliani’s telling, he did only after being convinced by France and the United Nations.
“No fly zones are r-r-r-r-eally, really hard,” he said, to big laughs.
Four years after he abruptly pulled out of the nation’s first primary, in favor of a big-state strategy that ended in disaster, Giuliani was back in New Hampshire, promoting himself as a potential presidential contender and aggressively trying to make amends.
For Giuliani—who last year passed on rumored runs for the governor’s mansion and the Senate—any hope for higher office would have to begin here, with the good people of the Granite State, where his profile as a moderate Republican with a reputation for leadership could still resonate.
Building some fresh buzz around the Giuliani brand would seem to be a no-lose proposition, what with his slew of self-titled businesses, but there are those who think Giuliani could do much better than that.
“If he runs, he stands a strong chance of either winning, or coming in second place,” said Andrew Smith, who directs the Granite State Poll at the University of New Hampshire, where the latest survey has Giuliani running a distant second to former Massachusetts Gov.Mitt Romney.
On that Friday, Giuliani’s pitch had a particular New Hampshire bent. He avoided mentioning the social issues on which he and the state’s Republicans might diverge—in 2008, he had tried to split the difference with the GOP base on abortion, gay marriage and gun control by casting them as issues best left to the states—and opted instead to praise the state’s Tea Party and to portray resistance to the administration’s health care bill as a “Live Free or Die” struggle against tyranny.
“I’ve always believed the emotion of the Tea Party is because it reaches into something deeper in an American’s soul, which is, ‘They’re taking our freedom away,’” he told The Observer, in between posing for pictures with the evening’s VIPs, who had paid $100 for the privilege.
“This president appears to want to have an America where Americans have less to say about their future, and the government has more to say about your future. And if you know New Hampshire, you know that’s a very powerful theme in New Hampshire. Live free or die.” He rocked back in his chair and let out a commanding laugh. “Wow, that’s a powerful thought, right?”
Giuliani said he might even be capable of carrying the Tea Party mantle. “I think if the Tea Party looks at my record, they would find a lot of things to like,” he said.
Asked if his showing last time—when he leveraged his front-runner status into one lone delegate—might hurt his chances, he shrugged.
“We’ll see,” he said. “We’ll see. I don’t know the answer to that yet. When I know the answer to that, I’ll tell you—when I’m running or not running.”
It’s easy to forget, but in the summer of 2007, Giuliani was virtually tied with Romney in New Hampshire, and was constructing a campaign infrastructure that seemed capable of capturing the first primary state from its neighboring governor. But as Sen. John McCain roared back to life and began to siphon away the state’s moderate voters, Giuliani’s campaign shifted its time and money to focus on the bigger prizes in Florida and California. He finished a distant fourth in New Hampshire, trailing even Mike Huckabee, with just 8 percent of the vote.
On Friday, it was clear the mayor had some making up to do.
“I’m not a political strategist, but I know those of us who wore our emotions on our sleeves really wanted him to stick around a little longer,” said Donna Waterman, a 2008 campaign volunteer, who came to see Giuliani, gave him a big hug and said she would work for him again.
But Giuliani had been having problems even before he left.
“He kind of came in and went out,” said Cliff Hurst, who chaired the local party in 2004 and 2005. “People didn’t have a chance to have a conversation and shake hands. They’re really used to being pampered and getting a lot of attention, and I’m not sure they got that.”
“I saw him in person a couple of times and was just kind of stunned with some of the things he came in with, like two bodyguards in front of him walking through the Rotary Club, as if somebody was going to reach out and stab him with a butter knife,” said Smith, the University of New Hampshire pollster.
“The emcee in both places was instructed to say, ‘Now the mayor is very busy, can you please stay in your seats until he leaves,’” Smith recalled. “And the only reason those people are there in the first place is to go get their picture taken or get an autograph from the guy. So it’s like every room he goes to, he ticks off everybody in the room.”
Giuliani seemed to have learned. “If everybody could start sitting down, the Nation’s Mayor will stop by each table and say hello,” the emcee said, as Giuliani worked his way across the room, shaking hands and touching shoulders.
“Wanna get a picture?” he asked one man, flashing his gargantuan grin.
In front of the cash bar near the door, a woman posed for a picture and implored him to stick around this time. He joked like he was walking out the door, before telling her, “I’m here for you, I’m not going anywhere.”
Whatever hard feelings may linger about Giuliani’s early departure in 2008, to the crowd that came out on Friday night, he will always be the man who led New York City through the depths of 9/11.
A few “Never Forget” pins were handed out at the door, and Giuliani paused from the podium to recognize one of them.
“Thank you for wearing it. I really appreciate that,” he said.
But, for the man whose message Joe Biden once mocked as “a noun, a verb and 9/11,” that was it. If the crowd had come expecting his hit song, it got a few new riffs instead.
Giuliani presumed, as usual, that his status as a leader during those days could go unstated.
“You kind of get the feeling that people think we’re starved for leadership, and he wrote the book on leadership, literally,” said Wayne Semprini, the well-tanned former chairman of the state party, referring to the mayor’s book Leadership (Hyperion, 2002), which was a best seller.
Semprini ran Giuliani’s 2008 campaign in New Hampshire, and he talked up the possibilities for another run, even as the mayor’s aides went to great pains to emphasize that this was not a campaign trip, and that the boss was simply reconnecting with old friends.
Of course, those old friends happen to be the same ones who could form the foundation for a future run.
Unlike some of his potential competitors, with their lucrative FOX contracts, Giuliani wouldn’t seem to have much to lose in runing again.
His consulting firm has scaled back from its halcyon days in the mid-2000s. In 2007, the firm sold off its investment banking arm, Giuliani Capital Partners, and last year it vacated its flagship office to share space with his law office.
The firm’s most ambitious partnership—a $500 million to $750 million real estate fund—tried to launch into the turbulent market of 2008, but failed to get off the ground.
And, while he is hardly at the apex of his early-2000s popularity, he remains a relatively sought-after public speaker.
But while Giuliani ponders, potential opponents are taking up residence.
Romney has long had a house in New Hampshire, where he owns a sizable lead on the other hopefuls.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich was in Nashua, N.H., one day ahead of Giuliani, and said he’ll announce a decision in “five or six weeks.”
On Monday, Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, became the first to form an exploratory committee.
Pawlenty and Giuliani were among the prospective candidates who accepted an invitation to a recent house party thrown by Ovide Lamontagne, a Tea Party candidate who narrowly lost a Senate primary last year.
Giuliani is vague about when and what will determine his decision.
“An analysis and a feeling that you could make a big difference and that you have a good chance,” he told The Observer. “But you have to come to that point, and I’m not at that point yet.”
Just in case he gets to that point, Giuliani seems to be casting aspersions on the front-runner.
After his speech, he cautioned reporters that Romney might have a difficult time explaining away his health care mandate in Massachusetts.
“For his own good, he’s got to straighten this out. This will be a much bigger problem than people realize,” he said. “I’ve had people tell me about it for the last two months, from here. Calling me and telling me. People who might be interested in supporting him. So I think he’s got to deal with it. And if he isn’t, he’s not being realistic.”
Giuliani said “the other candidates” would certainly be making an issue of it. “I’m not sure I’m running, so I’m just raising it.”
But the criticism also comes more subtly, and without prompting.
Asked about the Tea Party’s role in winnowing the field, Giuliani said it “will work really well” in New Hampshire, given the overlap between the Tea Party’s core values and those of the state’s electorate.
“Because a lot of New Hampshire is kind of a reaction to Massachusetts,” he explained. “This is a state where people appreciate the fact there isn’t an income tax. Many of them moved here from Massachusetts because they felt the government spent too much money, wasn’t as efficient.”
Giuliani stood for a few more photographs, then hustled off toward Boston for a charity event the next day.
“I leave very exhilarated,” Giuliani said. “They were a lot of fun. They were terrific. But you know, if you’re not running, they always treat you much nicer. You only find out when you actually start running.”