Several people have mentioned that Rudy Giuliani sure isn’t the guy he once was. This is wrong. He’s exactly the guy he always was. It’s just that in the past, people (the media in particular) gave him a pass. He’s definitely the vile and corrupt man you see on Fox News and CNN. But there’s no reason to think this has changed.
Just look at his move from Democrat to independent to Republican. He had been a Democrat — the default for someone from New York. But when he got in good with the Ford administration, he became an independent. Then, pretty much the moment that Reagan was elected president, Giuliani became a Republican. This almost certainly was due to an offer to work in the Reagan administration. The one thing you can definitely say about Giuliani is that he always does what is best for himself — as much as a man as silly and ignorant as he knows what’s best for him.
Under Reagan, Giuliani oversaw the placement of Haitian refugees. Those that weren’t put in concentration camps were sent back to Haiti because, Giuliani claimed, they weren’t actual refugees. It was the same then as now. He claimed they were just fleeing poverty and thus had no claim on asylum. This is one of countless examples that make me bristle when I hear someone say that Trump is notably worse than previous Republicans.
For all that period, Rudy Giuliani made public racist comments even while claiming that it was outrageous that anyone called him racist. And his later tough-on-crime stance — including his “broken windows” and stop-and-frisk policies are all a part of that. He ran what was basically an authoritarian administration as governor of New York. And it is not at all clear this even resulted in reduced crime.
Looking at the whole of Giuliani’s mayorship, it’s hard not to see it as a blueprint for Trump. It’s not just its base authoritarianism. It’s the belligerent tone, explicit endorsement of police violence, and comically obvious corruption.
Mayor of the World
Like most Americans, I watched a lot of news after 9/11. And I was shocked about how much good press Giuliani got. It’s not that there was anything wrong with what he was doing. It’s just that there wasn’t anything to applaud. The banalest behavior was held up as something great. It was a clear example of how people will find something to applaud about you if they are determined to applaud you.
The worst example of this was when David Letterman came back on Late Show. I wanted to vomit when I heard it. And it hasn’t aged well:
Yet this is the narrative that was formed. And it reached its apex with the Time Person of the Year. They named him “Mayor of the World.” At the time, I thought it was just an indication of how craven journalists have become the last few decades.
Time spent decades noting that “Man/Person of the Year” was not necessarily laudatory. It was clear, at least from an American perspective, that the person of the year should have been Osama bin Laden. But I do understand: Americans are so ignorant and closed-minded that they would have lost it over that choice.
Just before 9/11, the narrative in New York was that Giuliani was a racist authoritarian. His career was effectively over. The attacks that day were better for Giuliani than they were even for George W Bush.
But why Rudy Giuliani?! Well, because that was the narrative. It could have been anyone. But why not the mayor of New York? And all the bad things about him were totally in line with the way that Americans was thinking and doing.
It doesn’t change things that Rudy Giuliani was still an awful person and that the narrative was just that: a narrative — a convenient fiction to be used by society. It had nothing to do with the man himself.
Death of a Narrative
The narrative didn’t die overnight after people realized that Giuliani was ranting, “I will be the hero!” No. After the crisis, Giuliani destroyed the narrative like you lose a chess game: move by move, inch by inch.
During the calm, things slowly came out that showed Giuliani wasn’t such a great protector of New York. It truly is amazing that again and again people mistake tough-talk with competence. He was widely cited for taking terrorism seriously before 9/11. But this just wasn’t true. His planning for a terrorist attack was pathetic. Most notably, it included putting the Office of Emergency Management command center in the World Trade Center over the objections of people who actually knew about this kind of stuff.
He was one of the worst Republicans when it came to explicitly politicize 9/11. And in this, no one can be surprised by who he is today. For example, he said, “We had no domestic attacks under Bush. We’ve had one under Obama.”
One of Joe Biden’s best-remembered lines is, “Rudy Giuliani — there’s only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, a verb, and 9/11.” What was particularly crushing about the line was that it was true. If you look at his campaign for president, that is how he spoke. He tied everything to 9/11.
Rudy Hasn’t Changed
There is much more, of course. His history in the private sector over the last decade has been awful — including help to Purdue to keep selling Oxycontin. But the point is that for as long as most people have been aware of him, Rudy Giuliani has been terrible. What he’s been doing for Trump is nothing new.
 To be fair, this used to be common. Conservatives (publicly and in private discussions) would say, “Bush kept us safe!” The same people who just couldn’t shut up about 9/11 somehow forgot that it happened while Bush was president. And even if you give Bush a mulligan on that, there were many other deadly attacks.