During the deep freeze on the East Coast over the weekend, Rudy Giuliani went ice skating, not in a rink, but rather slipping and sliding on whether or not Donald TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger welcomes baby boy Tennessee lawmaker presents self-defense bill in 'honor' of Kyle Rittenhouse Five things to know about the New York AG's pursuit of Trump MORE communicated with certain Russians about a real estate transaction up until the day he was elected president in 2016.
Giuliani managed the equivalent of attempting a rhetorical triple axel. Necks craned. Heads spun. Jaws dropped. The episode began on Sunday morning, when Giuliani told the New York Times and television news shows that candidate Trump told him that negotiations over a Moscow skyscraper continued from “the day I announced to the day I won.” If true, that means the future president was trying to cut a business deal with Russia while demanding the lifting of American sanctions on the same country. It also runs completely counter to the prevailing narrative supported by the Trump team that negotiations ended much earlier.
Then, on Monday, Giuliani skated it all back with a statement that the admissions were “hypothetical” and “not based on conversations I had with the president.” So the talk he said he had with Trump turns out not to have been a talk with Trump. Does that clear the air up? Giuliani once cleaned the streets of New York. Now he revels in muddying the facts. How did “America’s mayor” become the president’s chief confabulator?
There are two explanations. First, Giuliani seems to covet the limelight, even when it darkens his image. New Yorkers remember the worst photo opportunity ever, back in 1986, when he and former Senator Al D’Amato, posed “undercover” to show how us easy it was to buy crack cocaine. Giuliani dressed himself in a Hell’s Angels black leather vest with patches that read “Dirty Thirty” and “Filthy Few.” Slate magazine commented, “Giuliani's casual Friday trousers and gold belt buckle make him look more like a man who wants to sell homeowners insurance than a drug addict. And the post cataract surgery glasses aren’t very menacing either.”
In describing his address to the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, essayist Kevin Baker wrote in Politico magazine, “Giuliani raved and gesticulated about the podium like an Aztec priest offering up fresh beating hearts to Quetzalcoatl. He blamed President Obama for any and all racial division in the United States” then “Obama and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe dangerous erosion of Democratic Party foundations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat Left laughs off floated changes to 2024 ticket MORE for virtually every attack by Islamic terrorists over the past four years.”
This comes from a Republican who broke with his own party to endorse Democrat Mario Cuomo for reelection in 1994, which brings us to the second explanation for his ravings. It is not that Giuliani has lost his bearings, as some have suggested, but rather it is just the opposite. It turns out the true north in his compass is Trump. He has cast his lot with a soulmate who has demonstrated a strategic brilliance for deflection, dissembling, and distraction. Giuliani is amplifying the dissonance.
Media punditry has cast Giuliani as Jekyll and Hyde. But it is actually more complicated than that. In the heat of the 2016 campaign, Baker wrote on the old versus new Giuliani, “It might seem like this summer has marked a sad break with that old Rudy, or proved him a sellout. But if you’ve followed Giuliani’s career, in fact it’s clear he swallowed the whole Trump persona many years ago” with “the race baiting, the law and order pose, the incessant lying used to both steal credit and avoid responsibility.”
Now Trump is reportedly unhappy with how Giuliani performed over the weekend. Time will tell whether the meandering explanations and erratic narratives by Giuliani were strategically wise or recklessly unsound. But in the Trump playbook, the only thing worse than appearing erratic is not appearing at all. Giuliani cannot live with that, nor can his client. On Monday, Giuliani expressed concern that his epitaph would read, “Rudy Giuliani: He lied for Trump.” You can certainly argue that Giuliani deserves a better epitaph. But this week, it seems that he is doing the digging.
Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years. He served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is a novelist whose latest book is “Big Guns.” You can follow him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael and Facebook @RepSteveIsrael.