It has been suggested that the long list of formerly semi-respectable Republicans who have debased themselves before loutish grifter Donald Trump, as well as the current crop of Republican candidates who ape his style, show that Trump has corrupted the Party. While there is much to recommend this theory, it misses the significant fact that many, perhaps most — oh, hell, all — key members of the Party, and the conservative movement for which it serves as host body, actually came pre-ruined.
Proof of this can be seen in the recent antics of former “America’s mayor” and current Trump mouthpiece Rudy Giuliani, and the weird, embarrassed reaction of conservatives to his behavior.
The media-proclaimed hero of 9-11 cut quite a swath last week, first revealing in an interview with Trump courtier Sean Hannity that the president had refunded hapless Trump lawyer Michael Cohen for the hush money he’d provided to Trump’s alleged mistress Stormy Daniels, which revelation was highly suggestive of illegalities. Debate ensued as to what Giuliani was thinking. Trump, without disavowing Giuliani’s assertion, claimed he would “get his facts straight.” Then Giuliani ran out and said a bunch of other crazy shit.
It may shock younger readers to learn the pop-eyed goblin on their TV had been, less than a dozen years earlier, the Republican frontrunner for the presidency of the United States. Giuliani was then lauded for presiding as mayor over the beginning of New York’s crime-rate drop — a drop that began before he took office, has persisted long after his tenure, despite abandonment of his most notoriously draconian techniques — and for keeping his shit together during 9-11; but eventually Republicans remembered that as mayor he had been a gun-grabber and noticed that he sounded less sincere in denouncing abortion than propriety demanded, and also that he was a bit creepy, whereupon his candidacy collapsed.
Giuliani then devoted himself to self-enrichment, appearing only at intervals to pimp other Republicans — but never more enthusiastically, indeed orgasmically, as when Trump, his former drag-act partner, became the GOP nominee. He has spoken for Trump since, his most noteworthy appearance being one in which he appeared to hint that Wikileaks had tipped the Trump campaign to their Hillary e-mails payload — that is, until he blindsided Hannity with the payoff story.
Some Trumpkins tried at first to spin this as Good News for the usual reasons. “The media and the left are going berserk over this interview,” wrote Liz Sheld of PJ Media. “So if you think Trump watched last night and saw lunacy, you have it wrong. He saw the wartime consigliere he wants. /END,” tweeted Commentary editor John Podhoretz. (Then Podhoretz jumped back to add, “One more tweet: Rudy is not acting as Trump’s lawyer,” an analysis not generally shared but possibly retained by Trump fans as a sophistic defense for some future crime.)
Some high-profile Trump fans were nonplussed. National Review’s normally tenacious Trumpkin Andrew McCarthy confessed confusion at Trump going “hammer and tongs” at “small stuff” like Stormy Daniels when he should be relentlessly attacking special counsel Robert Mueller. McCarthy suggested Trump didn’t want to admit guilt, not because he wasn’t guilty — come on, we’re all grownups here — but because “the rules of the game are that Democrats get away with murder while Republicans get murdered,” so Trump had to fear receiving “the Dinesh D’Souza treatment” — that is, actual if modest punishment for campaign finance violations. (The idea of Trump in a run-down halfway house is, I must admit, piquant.)
Eventually Giuliani released a gnomic three-point statement apparently meant to reflect his fact-straightening. “Giuliani clarifies statements on Stormy payment, Comey firing,” Fox News dutifully reported; an equally sympathetic New York Post called him a “legal newbie.” But the former mayor was treated like a crackpot by most other sources — including not only liberal outlets like ThinkProgress (“Giuliani tries to fix disastrous interview tour, continues to make things worse”) but also conservative ones like Canada’s National Post (“Rudy Giuliani confounds and contradicts…bewildering display”).
Giuliani went on making strange assertions in a variety of forums: telling Judge Jeanine Pirro that, while “not an expert on the facts” in the matters he’d been sent on TV to discuss, he could nonetheless assert “there’s no way this was a campaign finance violation of any kind”; telling George Stephanopoulos that Trump might have paid off other sex partners, and could very well just blow off any Mueller subpoena with a Fifth Amendment plea; and telling a group of Iranian exiles that Trump would renege on the Iran treaty (Giuliani “pantomimed spitting on a piece of paper meant to represent the 2015 nuclear accord, drawing raucous cheers,” reported Bloomberg News).
Some conservatives tried to laugh all this off while offering vague defenses which, they made clear, ought not be taken too seriously lest they explode with the next Rudy appearance.
“New theory: Rudy’s a Democratic plant,” chortled Hot Air’s Allahpundit before shrugging, “What else is he supposed to say when asked if other women were paid off?” — “no” apparently not being an option. “If you’re Rudy,” Allahpundit went on, “there’s no one you can trust to tell you the honest truth about other payoffs. Trump would deny it no matter what, even to his own lawyers.” Apparently not working for a client who constantly hangs you out to dry with falsehoods isn’t an option either.
Some true Trumpkins stood fast. At The Federalist, David Marcus argued that “Rudy Giuliani Knows Exactly What He’s Doing” because as “a bare-knuckles brawler in the rings of both politics and litigation,” Giuliani was “laying down a marker,” demanding of Mueller: “Show your cards. Put up or shut up.”
How was this bare-knuckled hand of cards supposed to force Mueller’s hand? Apart from an assertion that “most Americans would like to see his cards,” a matter unproven and in any case probably of little importance to the stalwart special counsel, Marcus proffered only further macho signifiers as evidence. For example, he portrayed Giuliani butchly asking Mueller “what do you got?” — adding, “it is asked with a New York swagger” — because Giuliani knows Mueller has “bubkis.” Giuliani always “played offense,” Marcus continued, and has “chosen his own ground to fight on and winked at his opponents and detractors, begging them to take the first shot. Come at me is his mantra.” Perhaps the real strategy is to cover Trump’s tracks with a carpet of testosterone.
The saddest of the lot — and by that I mean funniest — were NeverTrumpers who somehow had the impression Giuliani was better than this and had unexpectedly betrayed their trust.
“To be a prelapsarian conservative in America today — as that creed was understood before 2016 — means getting used to heartbreak,” lamented neocon Max Boot at the Washington Post. Boot paid tribute to the “conservatives that I have admired and respected” who also “failed the Trump test” — intoning “Paul D. Ryan, Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, Bill Bennett, Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich, Scott Walker” as a lone bell rang in the distance — and told any readers who had not already fled gagging about how Rudy Saved New York from the days of “no radio” car signs, and that “if New Yorkers are being driven out [now], it’s due to high real-estate prices, not urban decay,” which Boot probably considers a twofer.
But with his latest outrageous statements, mourned Boot, Giuliani had damaged his legacy: “One can only imagine,” he asks, “what Mayor Giuliani would have said if someone had called the cops ‘stormtroopers’ — the epithet that he has now applied to his former law-enforcement colleagues who are investigating the president’s personal lawyer.”
Depends — would there have been a career advantage in agreeing with it? If not, no; if so, yes. It’s not hard to figure this stuff out unless you’re sentimental, or in on the con.
While Boot was wetting the Post with his tears, elsewhere at that paper Giuliani was telling reporters he and other members of the administration “all feel pretty good that we’ve got everything kind of straightened out and we’re setting the agenda…. Everybody’s reacting to us now, and I feel good about that because that’s what I came in to do.”
I believe he means this — not in the sense that people were actually assured everything is fine at the White House, but in the sense that he and Trump had demonstrated that it didn’t matter what Trump had done, nor what anyone thought about it. And so Rudy goes into the history books — assuming, perhaps optimistically, that we’re still going to have them.