Rudy survives the Russert crucible

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani easily handles Tim Russert, making no apparent gaffes or major news on "Meet The Press."

Topics: 2008 Elections,

On paper, Rudy Giuliani is the candidate most likely to create major fireworks in a “Meet The Press” grilling. His public and private record is so checkered with personal and professional misdeeds that one could easily imagine NBC’s Tim Russert tearing him apart. But Giuliani, a veteran of the New York press corps, also knows how to handle tough questions. He doesn’t get flustered. He can takes control of the facts. And so on Sunday, with some help from a restrained Russert, Giuliani mostly skated through his big Sunday test.

Mostly, he survived by frankly admitting some of his mistakes, and then arguing others. When asked why he had not been better briefed as New York mayor on the al-Qaida threat, he said bluntly, “I didn’t see the enormity of it, neither did the administration at the time.” When asked about abandoning the 9/11 commission to give speeches, he said he should never have joined the panel, since he had other concerns at the time, including his own possible presidential run. “It was a mistake for me to be on the panel,” he said. When asked about Bernard Kerik, his now-indicted friend and former police commissioner, Giuliani said, “The reality is I made a mistake.”

Giuliani refused to release a complete list of his former business clients, citing confidentiality agreements. He said he opposed raising fuel economy standards for cars. He declined to renounce his ownership interest in his consulting firm, which continues to take clients. When Russert asked Giuliani if he thought homosexuality was a sin, Giuliani cited Catholic doctrine. “I don’t believe it’s sinful,” he said. “The various acts that people perform are sinful.” Then he added, “Unfortunately I have had my own sins that I have had to confess.”

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On Iran, Giuliani distanced himself from his neoconservative advisor, Norman Podhoretz, who has advocated a military strike against Iran. Instead, Giuliani said that a military option, which he would not take off the table, should be a last resort. He said he would keep American forces in Iraq “as long as necessary to get the strategic objective achieved.” He defined that objective as a stable Iraq that can act as an ally in the war on terror. He defended the security detail for his paramour-turned-wife Judy Nathan, arguing that all the protection she received was appropriate at the time. He mostly avoided a question from a recent Salon column by Joe Conason about his firm’s apparent ties to shadowy officials in Qatar. (Though more reporting on this is sure to be forthcoming.)

Perhaps the weakest part of Giuliani’s entire performance came in the first few minutes, when Russert showed polls from Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina that show Giuliani trailing badly. Giuliani just repeated the untested thesis of his campaign: He thinks he can win the nomination by staging a strong comeback on January 29 in Florida and on February 5, when the great bulk of primary voters go to the polls. It’s a strategy that is untested, and to many experts, outlandish. But Giuliani spelled it out without blinking on Sunday morning.

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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