9/11 keeps Rudy a Presidential frontrunner


America’s still-vivid memories of that miserable morning five Septembers ago may be brightened by recollections of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s focused, confident performance on 9/11. The ongoing good will his leadership generated may explain why he outpaces potential rivals for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

Polls last month showed Giuliani waxing on the right, despite misgivings that conservative GOP voters may have with him on abortion, gay rights or gun control.

  • Among 432 registered Republicans and pro-GOP independents surveyed by CNN and Opinion Research Corp., 31 percent favored Giuliani for the nomination, while 20 percent backed Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. (Error margin: +/- 5 percent.)
  • In Strategic Vision’s studies, Giuliani trumped McCain, 42 percent to 28 percent, among Republicans in Florida and 44 percent to 24 percent in Pennsylvania.
  • Among 623 New York voters, the Siena Research Institute saw McCain beat Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., by 46 percent to 42 percent (+/- 3.9 percent). Giuliani, however, would stomp Clinton even harder, 48 percent to 42 percent, and capture the Empire State’s 31 electoral votes.

In a world where Islamic extremists plot to use baby-formula bottles to blow up tourist-filled jets, GOP voters understand how vital it is to assign someone tough and talented to confront this life-and-death challenge. Giuliani looks like that man.

His formidable stature spooks liberals. Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins, authors of "Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11," have attempted to rain fresh rubble on Rudy. While they praise his on-camera comments that day, they mainly criticize Giuliani for what they believe he should have done then and, indeed, throughout his mayoralty to cope with a major terrorist attack.

Barrett and Collins are a two-man Hubble Telescope of hindsight. Yes, in retrospect, the Emergency Operations Center might have survived were it not situated at 7 World Trade Center, which collapsed on 9/11. Yes, the Office of Emergency Management should have conducted a drill involving a major skyscraper fire. However, it stayed busy rehearsing for chemical-weapons attacks and securing Times Square’s millennium celebrations, a feared terror target.

Could New York have prepared for and responded even better to 9/11? Naturally. Still, Giuliani’s employees helped some 15,000 WTC inhabitants flee to safety. While President Bush understandably remained a moving target, Giuliani restored city government, then calmly and firmly reassured Americans and the world that we had endured a serious blow, but bounced off the mat.

While Giuliani’s critics try to paint him as someone who first leaped on the anti-terror bandwagon on 9/11, he actually has fought Islamic extremists since the mid-1970s.

Mayor Giuliani ejected then-PLO leader Yasser Arafat from an October 1995 Lincoln Center concert to which he was uninvited. "Maybe we should wake people up to the way this terrorist is being romanticized," Giuliani said. While a U.S. attorney under President Ronald Reagan, Giuliani investigated the 1985 PLO hijacking of the Achille Lauro, fired on by four terrorists who wounded ship passengers and fatally shot Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound Jewish retiree.

As President Gerald Ford’s associate deputy attorney general, Giuliani was a member of the Cabinet Committee to Combat Terrorism. According to a declassified June 10, 1976, State Department memorandum, this panel addressed the "increased danger of major terrorist attacks in the US requiring urgent preventive and preparatory action." Among other things, this memo reveals, at a meeting that May 27, "Mr. Giuliani said that it would be important to have the USG (U.S. government) respond to press queries during an IT (international terrorist) incident with a single voice. He suggested that a model plan be worked out."

As Barrett and Collins aim their lances at Giuliani’s post-9/11 armor, they largely miss what GOP primary voters clearly see: a dedicated and relentless patriot who first fought terrorists 30 years ago. Facing an unprecedented crisis, Giuliani stayed remarkably cool, maintained order and helped evacuate the financial district’s dangerous streets. "Just keep going north," he told those still in Lower Manhattan.

To amplify his enduring post-9/11 reputation, Giuliani should educate Republicans on his Reaganesque tax-reducing, budget-restraining, crime-cutting mayoral record. Somehow, Giuliani also needs to make peace with anti-abortion and Second Amendment activists. But for now, "America’s Mayor" _ previously caricatured as "too liberal for the nomination" _ looks like 2008’s Republican to beat.

(New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a columnist a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Va.)