THE STUMP DECEMBER 15, 2011
As Republicans far and wide take turns wielding the baseball bat against Newt Gingrich's kneecaps, one legendary brawler has decided to stick up for him: Rudy Giuliani. The former mayor's counterattack on Mitt Romney earlier today held little back. From Politico:
"I’ve never seen a guy change his position so many times, so fast, on a dime,” Giuliani said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. In an extended rant against Romney, Giuliani said the Republican hopeful switched from pro-choice to pro-life; pro-gun control to becoming an NRA supporter; pro-cap and trade to being against cap and trade, among other shifts. “He figures out there are embryos and changes” his mind on abortion, Giuliani said. “He was pro-mandate [for health care] for the whole country, then he becomes anti-mandate and takes that page out of his book, and republishes the book.” ...
By contrast, Giuliani glowingly compared former Republican speaker Newt Gingrich to Ronald Reagan. “I think Newt has his set of vulnerabilities, but a more consistent position with real ideas like Ronald Reagan had,” he said. “I remember the Carter White House just dying for Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was the dumb actor, said incendiary things.”
What are we to make of this? Politically, the socially moderate Giuliani lines up closer to his fellow northeasterner Romney. But does he feel some sympathy with Gingrich as a man of multiple (and messy) marriages? They have another bond as well, of course -- both have milked their political connections for a lucrative career in influence-peddling, er sorry, I mean consulting and strategizing.
But I suspect it goes beyond that, and has more to do with Giuliani's interactions in 2008 with Romney, who, of course, was at the time making a big show of moving right on social issues at the same time as his fellow moderate Giuliani was sticking closer to his true Northeastern self. This emerged particularly on immigration, an issue where Romney tried to score points against Giuliani and John McCain just as he did this year against Rick Perry and Gingrich, only to be attacked for hypocrisy by those candidates over his use of undocumented lawn workers. As I was recently reminded by Steve Duprey, a top McCain adviser from New Hampshire who is neutral this time around, Giuliani, McCain and the other 2008 candidates truly could not abide Romney, and made no attempt to hide that, going so far as to gang up on him in debates, chuckling aloud when one or another of them would land a hit on Romney. McCain, Duprey recalled, “just sat back and smiled—Huck was after Romney, Giuliani was after Romney. It was entertaining. The poor guy probably thought, What did I do to deserve all this?”
If your memory is foggy, this account captured the dynamic pretty well, from a January, 2008 debate in New Hampshire:
The fireworks started in the first minutes of the debate, which aired on ABC, when Romney trashed Huckabee's recent essay in Foreign Affairs magazine in which the former Arkansas governor criticized the Bush administration for having an "arrogant bunker mentality" on foreign policy. In response, Huckabee pushed back, accusing Romney of echoing a similar opinion last year and of supporting a "timed withdrawal" of troops from Iraq.
"Don't characterize my position," Romney warned.
"Which one?" Huckabee shot back.
And that wasn't the only venom of the night. When Romney went after McCain, accusing him of supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants (a charge Romney makes in one of his TV ads airing here in New Hampshire), the Arizona senator repeatedly denied the charge. "You can spend your whole fortune on these attack ads, my friend, but it still won't be true," McCain said, referring to the millions of his own dollars that Romney has pumped into his campaign.
McCain's line elicited a loud cackle downstage from Rudy Giuliani, who has clashed more than once with Romney over immigration. Fred Thompson, a mostly quiet presence in the debate, went after Romney a few seconds later on the issue. "Didn't you say Republicans were making a terrible mistake if they were separating themselves with President Bush on the illegal immigration issue?" Thompson asked. Romney said he'd been misquoted, which prompted McCain to jump back in. "You're always misquoted," McCain scoffed. "When you change positions on issues from time to time, you will get misquoted." From downstage, Giuliani laughed again, and Romney was visibly irritated, accusing McCain of "personal attacks."
But Romney didn't get much of a reprieve. A few minutes later, Giuliani piled on Romney, reminding the audience that nobody in the field has a perfect record on immigration--not even Ronald Reagan, who Giuliani called "the hero of our party." "Ronald Reagan did amnesty," Giuliani said. "I think he'd be in one of Mitt's commercials. This time, it was McCain who laughed.
McCain had to get over his contempt -- Romney endorsed him after dropping out of the race and proceeded to campaign eagerly for him around the country. But Giuliani never had occasion to go through a similar thaw, and the result is what we're seeing now: an unlikely friend for Newt.