The Evolution of Rudy Giuliani: How He Went from 'America's Mayor’ to Mindless Trump Apologist

Believe it or not, Giuliani didn’t start out as a Republican.

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When Fox News needs an apologist for President Donald Trump, they know they can always count on his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani—who, in 2018, is right up there with Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders when it comes to serving as a mouthpiece for Trump and his policies. But the former New York City mayor and 2008 presidential hopeful wasn’t always the rigid, knee-jerk GOP partisan he is today. There was a time when phrases like “America’s mayor,” “moderate northeastern Republican” and “Rockefeller Republican” were used in connection with Giuliani. Along the way, however, Giuliani (who is now 74) went from being “America’s mayor” to allying himself with the far right.

Giuliani didn’t start out as a Republican. Born in 1944, he was a registered Democrat until 1975 and an independent for half a decade before registering as a Republican in late 1980 after Ronald Reagan was elected to his first term as president. In a 1988 interview, Giuliani’s mother, Helen D’Avanzo Giuliani, asserted that her son wasn’t really as conservative as he liked to think he was: “He only became a Republican after he began to get all these jobs from them. He’s definitely not a conservative Republican. He thinks he is, but he isn’t. He still feels very sorry for the poor.”

The Brooklyn native aggressively went after the “Reagan Democrat” vote when he ran for mayor of New York City in 1989 and 1993, losing to Democrat David Dinkins the first time but defeating him the second. Despite the fact that Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 5-1 in New York City, Giuliani defeated Democratic nominee Ruth Messinger by a wide margin when he was reelected in 1997. And in November 2001—only two months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks—New York City elected two Republican mayors in a row when Michael Bloomberg, with Giuliani’s endorsement, defeated Democrat Mark Green.

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The Giuliani of the 1990s and early to mid-2000s was considered conservative-leaning and right-of-center but not far-right, and he wasn’t a social conservative (he was pro-choice on the abortion issue and considered himself pro-gay rights). In those days, Giuliani was someone the Republican Party would roll out when it hoped to make a Republican candidate seem more palatable to Democratic voters. Listening to Giuliani’s speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention, one hears a very different and more nuanced tone from the Giuliani of today: although Giuliani encouraged President George W. Bush’s reelection, he carefully avoided attacking Democrats in general. 

Giuliani’s exact words: “Neither party has a monopoly on virtue. We don’t have all the right ideas; they don’t have all the wrong ideas. But I do believe there are times in history when our ideas are more necessary and more important and critical, and this is one of those times when we are facing war and danger.”

It was a carefully crafted speech that rallied Republicans but also, was designed to encourage Democrats to cross party lines and vote to reelect President Bush.

One started to see a shift to the hard-right during Giuliani’s presidential campaign of 2008, when he lost the GOP nomination to Arizona Sen. John McCain—and during Barack Obama’s two terms as president, there was little nuance with “America’s Mayor.” Giuliani repeatedly insisted that Obama was soft on terrorism and weak on national defense, which was a ludicrous assertion in light of how much of a war hawk Obama was and how greatly he expanded the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Obama, truth be told, was as much of a war hawk as President Bush, but he was more judicious about it. And it was under Obama’s watch that al-Qaeda terrorist Osama bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011.

But facts didn’t matter to Giuliani during the Obama era, when he pandered to the far right at every turn and denounced the president as foreign to U.S. values. At a fundraiser for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in early 2015,  Giuliani told the wingnut crowd, “I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you, and he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

Giuliani also claimed that Obama was afraid to criticize radical Islam, which is nonsense. Obama drew a clear distinction between radical Islam and non-radical Islam—not unlike President George W. Bush before him—and it was an important distinction to make because non-violent Muslims also have a lot to fear from al-Qaeda and ISIS (Islamic State, Iraq and Syria).  

On the subject of health care, Giuliani has parroted GOP talking points ad nauseum—mindlessly claiming that the Affordable Care Act of 2010, a.k.a. Obamacare, is socialized medicine (which it isn’t). And even before the ACA, Giuliani was making ridiculous statements about health care. In 2007, Giuliani insisted that if Obama and Hillary Clinton had their way on health care, “We are in for a disaster. We are in for Canadian health care, French health care, British health care.” 

Never mind the fact that France, according to the World Health Organization, has the best health care system in the world—or that France has a life expectancy rate of 82 compared to only 78 in the U.S. Facts fall by the wayside when Giuliani is intent on scoring partisan points.

Giuliani spent much of his career trumpeting his tough-on-crime agenda—first as a federal prosecutor, then as mayor of New York City for two terms. But serving as a personal attorney to President Trump in 2018, Giuliani has been highly critical of Special Counsel Robert Mueller—and in July, he denounced Mueller’s Russia probe as “the most corrupt investigation I have ever seen.” 

Giuliani’s knee-jerk defense of the president has been downright cartoonish in recent months. Giuliani denounced Mueller’s investigation as a partisan “witch hunt” run by “angry Democrats.” Mueller, however, is a Republican.

For Giuliani, all pretense of moderation and bipartisanship are long gone. The Rudy Giuliani of 2018 is a hard-right Republican and a Trumpista through and through—no matter how ridiculous it makes him look.

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Alex Henderson is a news writer at AlterNet and veteran political journalist. His work has also appeared in Salon, Raw Story, Truthdig, National Memo, Philadelphia Weekly, Democratic Underground, L.A. Weekly, MintPress News and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.