In many ways, Giuliani has come to encapsulate the partisan divide of the nation. A man once touted as a post-crisis unifier has now sacrificed his credibility among a majority of the country in pursuit of Trump’s political agenda.
“He’s the man of the hour, a man whose extraordinary grace under pressure in the days since this devastating attack has led him to be called ‘America’s Mayor.’”
So went Oprah Winfrey’s introduction of then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani at the “Prayer for America” service on September 23, 2001, less than two weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Giuliani’s presence was greeted by a standing ovation from those in attendance, reflecting how much goodwill the Republican mayor had earned in the preceding 12 days. In a time of despair, sorrow and anger, Giuliani became the nation’s face of resilience as he worked to bring about the city’s recovery.
These days, Giuliani is better known as the devoted personal lawyer and fixer of President Donald Trump. His numerous televised gaffes and public admissions have made him a frequent target for late-night comedians, while his politicized public screeds have all but erased the bipartisan goodwill he once engendered.
In many ways, Giuliani has come to encapsulate the partisan divide of the nation. A man once touted as a post-crisis unifier has now sacrificed his credibility among a majority of the country in pursuit of Trump’s political agenda. Like others in Trump’s orbit, Giuliani appears to have irrevocably tied his fortunes to the president’s success.
The law career of Rudy Giuliani
Years before Trump and Giuliani would become political allies, their paths crossed frequently. Like the president, Giuliani was born and raised in New York City. Trump in Queens, Giuliani in Brooklyn.
Giuliani received a law degree from New York University Law School in 1968 and worked in law for the next two and a half decades before being elected NYC mayor in 1993.
In 1983, then-President Ronald Reagan appointed Giuliani to be the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York. Among his most notable efforts as a US attorney was the successful prosecution of the Mafia Commission Trial in which multiple high-level members of the New York mob, including family leaders, were sentenced to prison.
Following his two terms as NYC mayor, Giuliani put his legal career on hold in favor of politics, even unsuccessfully campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.
His law career seemed to have been mostly abandoned. Then, in 2018, with the president being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for possible cooperation with Russia during the 2016 election, Giuliani joined Trump’s legal team.
Even before joining Trump’s legal team, Giuliani had proved to be a loyal supporter, fervently endorsing him at the opening night of the 2016 Republican National Convention.
As a Trump surrogate, Giuliani raised many eyebrows. In August 2016, while campaigning for Trump, the former NYC mayor claimed, confusingly, “Under those eight years before Obama came along, we didn’t have any successful radical Islamic terrorist attack in the United States.” The 9/11 attacks occurred seven years before Obama took office.
For many, this bizarrely political (and factually incorrect) attack on Obama was emblematic of Giuliani’s increasingly partisan persona. Writing for The New Yorker, Jelani Cobb, author and journalism professor at Columbia University, labeled the moment, “The Appalling Last Act of Rudy Giuliani.” It looked like Giuliani was throwing away his political career to support Trump.
Of course, that was three months before the November election when many assumed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would easily defeat Trump.
Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani
As both Trump’s personal lawyer and his ally, Giuliani has been central to the Ukraine scandal that led to Trump’s impeachment.
After joining Trump’s legal team, Giuliani regularly traveled to Ukraine to pursue Trump’s interests there. The goal was to pressure the Ukrainian president into announcing a corruption investigation into Hunter Biden, the son of current Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Their motivation appears to have been an attempt to damage Biden politically, based on the accurate assumption that the former vice president would be Trump’s competitor in 2020.
In addition to pursuing the campaign against Hunter Biden, Giuliani was also instrumental in the harassment and eventual removal of former US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. After leaving her position, Yovanovitch testified before Congress that, rather than rooting out corruption in Ukraine, the Trump administration was worsening it.
One of Giuliani’s associates, Lev Parnas, claimed that he and another associate, Igor Fruman, were part of the Trump-coordinated pressure campaign.
Though Trump denied any involvement in the Ukrainian scandal – and was acquitted by the Senate of any wrongdoing – Parnas released a video in January 2020 in which he and the president appear to be discussing the removal of Yovanovitch.
Even as Trump put distance between himself and the scandal, Giuliani’s frequent television appearances seemed to implicate the president. For instance, in a CNN appearance in September 2019, Giuliani admitted (after initially denying it) that he asked Ukraine to investigate Biden.
Back in May 2018, Giuliani also admitted Trump had personally paid off the pornstar Stormy Daniels, who has alleged she and Trump had an affair. Though that situation had nothing to do with Ukraine, Trump had previously denied knowing anything about the payments to Daniels.
Rudy Giuliani’s falling approval
A Quinnipiac poll released one month after the 9/11 attacks found Giuliani had garnered his highest approval ratings ever, with a 79-16 margin within New York City. Four months earlier, his approval ratings had been a more typical 49-45.
Six years after the attacks, it briefly appeared like Giuliani could ride his post-9/11 popularity to the White House. Though his presidential aspirations never manifested – Republican Senator John McCain eventually challenged the Democratic nominee, eventual President Barack Obama – Giuliani still maintained local and national popularity at that time.
Now, nearly two decades after 9/11, it’s safe to say that Giuliani’s popularity has taken a hit. According to YouGov, his overall approval ratings in the US are a paltry 30%, with 42% of Americans holding a negative view of him. Among Millennials, positive opinions of Giuliani are an abysmal 21%. By comparison, Trump has a 30% approval from Millennials.
With poll after poll reflecting an increasingly polarized America, Giuliani’s transformation from “America’s Mayor” to Trump loyalist is fitting.
However, Giuliani’s approval with Republicans has suffered as well. Shortly after signing onto Trump’s legal team, Gallup polling found Giuliani was viewed favorably by only 11% of Democrats and 29% of independents. His 61% favorability with Republicans was the lowest rating he’d ever received from the party.
Mayor Rudy Giuliani
The September 11 attacks thrust Giuliani onto the national stage, but he was already a prominent force in New York politics. He was the Republican mayor of the nation’s largest city, a city that has historically favored Democratic mayors or Republicans with centrist leanings.
Giuliani was elected as New York City’s mayor in 1993, narrowly beating out the incumbent, David Dinkins, the city’s first Black mayor. Vowing to bring an economic and social recovery to the city, Giuliani won by assembling a coalition of the city’s white voters.
Giuliani was the first Republican mayor of the city since the 60s, which might explain why a year after his victory, he supported the gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Mario Cuomo (father of current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo).
As mayor, Giuliani took a tough-on-crime approach favored by many conservatives.
Giuliani has regularly credited his “broken windows” policy for bringing about the decline in NYC’s crime rates in the 90s. That policy was built on the belief that signs of disrepair in a neighborhood (e.g. broken windows, graffiti) lead to even greater levels of crime. The theory posits that aggressive policing and the punishing of minor violations, including panhandling, prevent worse crimes.
Critics say the “broken windows” policy is flawed and unreasonably punishes poverty without actually addressing the roots of crime. Other skeptics of Giuliani’s record argue the decline merely reflected the national downward trend. Nonetheless, Giuliani continues to this day to present himself as an authority on addressing crime.
Even after he left office, Giuliani was still known as “Mr. Mayor” around New York City. A 2007 Esquire profile, published when Giuliani was eyeing the presidency, declared, “Rudy Giuliani Is a Colossal Asshole,” before adding, “Which is precisely what makes him the best mayor in America.”
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