“I know this is a horrible thing to say . . . ” That’s how former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani prefaced his announcement to about 60 right-wing people from business and the media at a private dinner honoring Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s governor, that the president “doesn’t love” America. Giuliani added, “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.”
Caught “punting” about his belief—or non-belief—in evolution earlier on a panel in England, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker stuck with the indecisive approach, saying that he doesn’t know whether President Obama loves America. Giuliani promised to endorse Walker if he can express that [we’re the most exceptional country in the world], do that and carry it out.” If not, Giuliani will “support somebody else.”
Some presidential wannabes are standing in line to get Giuliani’s support. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) called Obama “an apologist for radical Islamic terrorists,” and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal claimed that “the gist” of Giuliani’s remarks was true.
On the other side, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said that he had “no doubt” that Obama loves America although “his policies are bad for our nation,” and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) followed suit. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) doesn’t “question [the president’s] patriotism or love for our country.”
Forced to defend his statement after the ensuing firestorm, Giuliani said:
“Well first of all, I’m not questioning his patriotism. He’s a patriot, I’m sure. What I’m saying is, in his rhetoric, I very rarely hear the things that I used to hear Ronald Reagan say, the things that I used to hear Bill Clinton say about how much he loves America.”
Giuliani followed that up by saying, “You can be a patriotic American and be a critic, but then you’re not expressing that kind of love we’re used to from a president.”
Last year the former mayor blamed the president’s “propaganda” saying it told everyone to “hate the police” for the deaths of two New York police officers. More recently, Giuliani said about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “That is a patriot, that’s a man who loves his people, that’s a man who protects his people, that’s a man who fights for his people, unlike our President.”
After Giuliani’s “horrible thing to say,” he couldn’t quit talking. “President Obama didn’t live through September 11. I did,” he insisted. Then he claimed that he shouldn’t be considered racist because the president was raised by “a white mother.” He accused the president of “anti-colonialism,” which would make Giuliani pro-colonialism. Finally he devolved into daring reporters to find examples of the president expressing love for his country. (USA Today found many of these examples, including the president’s most recent State of the Union speech.)
People like Giuliani forget that when they make inflammatory statements others will report on the speaker’s background. An example is this op-ed from Giuliani’s own biographer (Rudy: An Investigative Biography). After an overview of Giuliani’s personal peccadilloes, he wrote about Giuliani’s half-dozen deferments to avoid fighting in the Vietnam War, his police commissioner who went to prison, and his father who served in Sing Sing for holding up a Harlem milkman and being a mob enforcer for the loan-sharking operation run out of his uncle’s Brooklyn bar. Giuliani is probably right when he says that the president “wasn’t brought up the way … I was brought up.”
The fallout from Giuliani’s comment may land squarely on Walker instead of the former mayor, who isn’t running for anything. As Dana Milbanks said in a Washington Post opinion piece, “What Rudy Giuliani did this week was stupid. What Scott Walker did ought to disqualify him as a serious presidential contender.” Milbanks was right about the stupidity: Giuliani wasn’t scheduled to speak at the dinner and didn’t know that any members of the press were there.
Milbanks described Walker as “spineless” for not refusing the “beyond-the-pale rhetoric.” During President Obama’s first campaign, John McCain shut down hateful supporters who were screaming that President Obama is a “terrorist” and an “Arab.” With Walker’s action, “the venom is being sanctioned, even seconded, by those who would lead the Republican Party.”
Walker can’t even answer a simple question about whether he believes in evolution. His response? “That’s a question a politician shouldn’t be involved in one way or another, so I’m going to leave that up to you.”
As governor, Walker has revealed an auspicious lack of leadership. His tax cuts have caused the state a $283 million deficit which must be taken care of by mid year and a projected deficit of $2 billion for the two years following July 2015. His solution for the current deficit is to put off paying $108 million in debt due in May so that he won’t look so bad in the current fiscal year. The debt will only increase next year’s deficit, but by then Walker hopes to be on the national stage.
Walker also wants to borrow $1.3 billion funding over the next biennium for transportation needs, money that he could have gotten from accepting Medicaid expansion and not providing tax breaks to those who didn’t need it. He had attended the private dinner with Giuliani to explain how he can do for the nation what he has done for Wisconsin. His ideas don’t bode well for the U.S. economy.
Senor establishment Republicans are displeased with Walker, saying that he is still not sure-footed on the national stage. Scott Reed, the top political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and campaign manager for Bob Dole in the 1996 presidential election, said:
“One of the challenges of running for president is how you handle events where you’re introduced and the news from the introduction overtakes your campaign message of the day. And how you handle those curveballs says a lot about your candidacy.”
Dan Senor, a prominent Republican adviser on a range of issues, said:
“There is a simple response: ‘I don’t challenge President Obama’s love for America; I challenge his agenda for America.’ Period. And then move off it. The last thing we want is to be drawn into a psychoanalytical debate about what is in the president’s heart.”
Leading GOP strategists know that Guiliani’s accusations aren’t successful because Mitt Romney used them in his losing 2012 campaign against President Obama. At a campaign event, Romney said, “Our president doesn’t have the same feelings about American exceptionalism that we do. And I think over the last three or four years, some people around the world have begun to question that.”
Walker made things worse today by saying that he doesn’t know if the president is a Christian, that he had never read anything about whether he is. For damage control, his spokeswoman Jocelyn telephoned the Washington Post after the interview was concluded to say that Walker knows that the president is a Christian. She claimed that the governor was making a point of principle by refusing to answer the question.
Thanks to Giuliani, the campaign smearing leading up to the 2016 presidential campaign is in full swing, and Scott Walker, beloved by the Koch brothers, may be collateral damage. His campaign message is that as a representative of “fresh leadership,” he has “big, bold ideas and the courage to act on it.” There has been nothing bold or courageous about Walker on the world stage.