"A noun, a verb, and 9/11": Rudy Giuliani's cynical September 11 strategy rears its head

The GOP field's newest entrant would like to tell you about 9/11 -- ever heard of it?

Published May 28, 2015 4:44PM (EDT)

Rudy Giuliani            (AP/Damian Dovarganes)
Rudy Giuliani (AP/Damian Dovarganes)

The most memorable laugh line from the 2007-2008 presidential debates came from then-Sen. Joe Biden, discussing the presidential campaign of Rudy Giuliani: "I mean, think about it! Rudy Giuliani. There's only three things he mentions in a sentence -- a noun, a verb, and 9/11. There's nothing else! There's nothing else!"

This wasn't much of an exaggeration. The former mayor of New York City, who was considered a loose frontrunner for the nomination through much of 2007, tried to link just about everything to his experience coordinating first responders on September 11, 2001. He centered his campaign strategy on skipping most of the early states and putting all his resources into Florida. As the Florida primary neared in January 2008 and Giuliani was still trailing, he released an ad comparing Floridians' experience with hurricanes to his experience on 9/11. Get it? They're both disasters. Rudy Giuliani lost Florida and quit the race.

It's not easy being a New York-area Republican in a national Republican race. As TPM's Josh Marshall recently wrote, national Republicans might generally appreciate the sort of blunt, tri-state pugnacity that snarling pitbulls like Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani bring to the arena. But ultimately they're RINOs who've occupied various heretical positions, typically on social issues, in order to win in blue electorates. They're culturally distinct from the prevailing strand of rural, South-centric Republicanism. Rudy Giuliani was pro-choice and a supporter of gay rights, something that was ten times more controversial in 2007-2008 Republican politics than it is today. He tried to shore up those weaknesses by talking about 9/11 all the time. It wasn't enough.

And the 9/11 Strategy will definitely, definitely not going to be enough for former New York Gov. George Pataki, who for some reason is announcing his presidential candidacy in New Hampshire today.

At least Giuliani started near the top of polls and had... personality, let's call it. High name-recognition. Pataki, who served three terms as New York's governor between 1995 and 2007, will start somewhere between 15th and 20th place across the board. Can he catch a spark? Well... how about you press play on this four-minute announcement video and try to make it through the first ten seconds without falling asleep:

Not easy, is it? After several lengthy naps we were able to make it through the full thing. And guess what it's mostly about?

Pataki was governor of New York during September 11, 2001, and he won't let you forget that. His video is filled with references to America coming together after 9/11, and how, if president, George Pataki will bring America together again, etc. etc. We see the 9/11 memorial. We see him standing in one of the new World Trade Center buildings gazing out at another of the new World Trade Center buildings. He walks through the lobby of one of the new World Trade Center buildings. Yadda yadda yadda, and so on and so forth, forever:

In addition to showing outside shots of the new World Trade Center, Pataki is seen standing in 4 World Trade Center, looking up at the adjacent 1,776-foot skyscraper.

“I’ve been up in that tower. That’s exactly what we hoped, that we would not just rebuild what was here but build higher and taller and soar to new heights and show people we weren’t going to think small and live afraid,” he said, looking up at the tower from Freedom Plaza.

The video also features iconic images from American history, including the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the raising of the American flag over Iwo Jima, the first moon landing and the two towers of light representing the World Trade Center that rose over lower Manhattan in the years after the 9/11 attacks.

Like Giuliani, Pataki is a pro-choice social liberal. (There are also dirty rumors spreading around that Pataki cares about the environment -- very dangerous stuff.) Like Giuliani, Pataki will try to offset those concessions by just mentioning 9/11 a lot. What point do they try to make with this tactic, though? Something about foreign policy gravitas: that their experiences managing the emergency response to 9/11 prepares them well to fight Islamic terrorism abroad. Not really, though?

One big difference between Pataki and Giuliani is that Pataki seems like a nice enough guy, whereas Rudy Giuliani has always been a total asshole. That's another reason why Pataki will fare worse than Giuliani in a GOP presidential primary, and faring worse than Giuliani in a GOP presidential primary is really bad. Good luck, George!

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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