There was a big, imaginary bull’s-eye covering the media section at former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s town-hall meeting in Davenport, Iowa.
For once, his attacks on Democrats were relatively mild compared with the incessant derision he aimed at a monster called “the liberal media.”
During the gathering Wednesday night at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport, Giuliani cited an alleged media bias at least nine times, blaming it for everything from the struggles in the Iraq war to higher taxes.
“If I can’t figure out there’s a significant media bias against this war, then I shouldn’t be running for president of the United States,” he said.
In talking about fiscal policy, he told the crowd of a couple hundred people: “If you think deficit, the liberal media will immediately think higher taxes.”
He took aim at newspaper editorial-page writers with the same charge he often levels against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and other top Democratic presidential contenders, saying they don’t understand big executive decisions “because they’ve never run anything. This is all theory to them.”
Near the end of his remarks, he implied that the United States might have lost World War II “if we had maybe the kind of thing we have today, this kind of impatience” to end the conflict in Iraq.
That came up when he was answering an audience member’s question about the war.
“No matter what the media are saying, if the people on the ground are telling you we can win this, or we can succeed, or we need more time to succeed, your inclination has to be to go with that,” Giuliani said.
He then noted that Adolf Hitler shifted military tactics not thinking he could win World War II, but to “demoralize” America and force it into making a premature deal to end the conflict.
“If we were a different kind of people, a different kind of leadership, maybe that could have happened,” Giuliani said. “Some of that’s going on here. There’s a psychology to war.”
Giuliani has been soaring in national Republican presidential polls, boosted by the big-time name recognition he got — via the media — during his days leading New York City after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
A new Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll released this week showed he has opened up a wide lead over all of his Republican rivals nationally, with a 2-to-1 lead over his closest rival, former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee.
Still, it’s a different story in Iowa, where the first votes will be cast in January’s precinct caucuses, potentially setting the tone for the next round of contests in New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and beyond.
The latest Des Moines Register poll of Iowa voters showed he had slipped into fourth place in the state — behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Thompson and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Giuliani supporter Jack Rife, a former Iowa state senator, discounted talk that Giuliani might be writing off Iowa just so he can get to the multistate contest dubbed “Super-Duper Tuesday” on Feb. 5, when California leads a delegate-rich group of states holding contests simultaneously.
“He’s got a real following here,” Rife said. “He’s gonna surprise some folks.”
Clinton and fellow Democrats Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina got some of the usual bashing Wednesday night, but Giuliani seemed far more intent to let the crowd know what he thinks about that “liberal media.”
In a question about torture, he ridiculed the way newspapers portray controversial interrogation techniques like water-boarding and sleep deprivation.
If the media think sleep deprivation constitutes torture, Giuliani said, “On that theory, I’m being tortured running for president of the United States.”
He also blamed the media for helping create a negative view of the United States around the world, and blasted the way they portray law-enforcement and intelligence agents fighting terrorism.
Bashing the media is a long-standing tradition in conservative circles, but Giuliani does it like no other candidate on the trail these days.
He does have some hurdles to overcome with the more conservative wing of the party, given his support for abortion, gay rights and gun control.
In recent weeks, a group of social conservatives led by James Dobson, founder of the evangelical Christian media empire Focus on the Family, has threatened to back a third-party candidate if Republicans nominate a candidate who supports abortion and gay rights. That was seen as a clear shot at Giuliani.
In 1992, the presence of third-party candidate Ross Perot on the ballot was widely seen as helping Democrat Bill Clinton win key swing states, and thus the presidency. Rife, for one, said he would not worry about that prospect unless a serious third-party candidate emerges from the conservative side.
“I think they have to stop and rationalize,” he said of Dobson and his allies. “You want a candidate particularly to beat Hillary Clinton. You’re going to have to accept a candidate as the Republican nominee who may not suit them in every way.”
(Contact M.E. Sprengelmeyer of the Rocky Mountain News at www.rockymountainnews.com.)