In Trump’s Gilded Beltway, Rudy Giuliani Finds a Potent Reward: Relevance

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WASHINGTON — No one ever asks “What happened to Rudy Giuliani?” as he hobnobs his way through the lobby of the Trump International Hotel, a few blocks from the White House.

Here, in the preferred Trump World epicenter of Washington, Rudolph W. Giuliani has full run of the place — table-hopping, touching bases, stepping outside for a cigar.

“Wow! Oh, my goodness, it’s an honor sir!” said Madison Cawthorn, a Republican congressional candidate from North Carolina, upon meeting Mr. Giuliani in the lobby last month. They were introduced by the president himself, who was trailed by an entourage of usual suspects that included Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff; Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina; and of course Mr. Giuliani, for whom the hotel represents a kind of ultimate safe space, office and playground.

He has been ubiquitous as ever here this week during the Republican National Convention. Mr. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, is hosting his radio show from the hotel, situated a short walk from the Andrew W. Mellon auditorium, where many of the week’s speeches take place. He is approached, photographed and thanked at all hours, as if none of his erratic and possibly illegal conduct in recent years had ever occurred.

No one in this gilded lobby derides Mr. Giuliani as the loosest of President Trump’s cannons, mocks his latest televised misadventures or blames him for getting the president impeached. None of the former friends and associates he has alienated — the ones asking, “What happened to Rudy?” — cast aspersions.

Here, he remains fully revered as America’s Mayor.

Mr. Trump’s presidency has produced a hodgepodge of characters whose allegiance to him has gained them entree to stations they might never have known otherwise — from White House jobs, to best seller lists, to, in some cases, jail. If nothing else, Mr. Trump has given them that most potent of political drugs: relevance.

No one has seized this chance with more gusto than Mr. Giuliani, whose epic career of ups and downs, feuds and outrages, has made him in some ways the quintessential creature of this sweaty habitat.

On Thursday night, Mr. Giuliani will speak in a prime slot — the culminating evening of the convention. If precedent holds, he will accuse former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. of all manner of corruption and mental decline, blame China for the coronavirus crisis (if he mentions the pandemic at all), spin grim scenarios of burning cities and socialist anarchy if Mr. Biden prevails and heap flamboyant praise upon his unlikely late-career meal ticket, Mr. Trump.

Depending on where one sits on the Trump spectrum, the current iteration of Mr. Giuliani represents either a triumphant comeback or the further decline into farce of a once legitimately momentous figure in the life of New York City and the country. If nothing else, Mr. Giuliani is back and fully ensconced in prime time. Not some scaled back and chastened version, either.

“He’s got a boss who is not exactly reining him in,” said Andrew Kirtzman, a New York political consultant who two decades ago wrote a biography of Mr. Giuliani, “Emperor of the City,” and is now at work on a second volume that incorporates the former mayor’s work for the president. Indeed, Mr. Trump seems to be encouraging the fullest, loudest Rudy possible. While Mr. Giuliani fits no one’s profile of the kind of market-tested speaker that might appeal to, say, college-educated women, he is perhaps as close as there is to a stylistic alter-ego for Mr. Trump. “He has lived through many of the same things that Trump has,” said Frank Luntz, a longtime Republican pollster who worked for Mr. Giuliani’s mayoral campaigns in 1993 and 1997. “There is far more overlap there than people realize.”

Given his blustering and at times cartoonish style, it can be easy to overlook the full and varied imprint that Mr. Giuliani has left on American life over four decades. In President Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department in the 1980s, Mr. Giuliani became a celebrated prosecutor as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York — the same office that is reportedly now investigating him for possible violations of foreign lobbying laws. (Mr. Giuliani has denied wrongdoing, and claimed that he has not worked as a lobbyist on Mr. Trump’s behalf.) As a pugnacious and showboating mayor in the 1990s, Mr. Giuliani personified New York’s blunt and indelicate ideal; he also presided over one of the most racially fraught chapters in the city’s history.

As his final term was ending, Mr. Giuliani’s commanding performance after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, propelled him to international stardom (which included an actual knighthood). He would dine out for years on his “America’s Mayor” cachet, enriching himself well into eight figures as a paid speaker and security consultant and eventually seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2008. That campaign fizzled fast, as Mr. Giuliani was often dismissed as a one-note caricature of his post 9/11 heyday. (“There’s only three things he mentions in a sentence — a noun, a verb and 9/11,” quipped another candidate who went nowhere that year, Mr. Biden.)

Now 76, Mr. Giuliani’s current iteration as Mr. Trump’s most determined, frenetic and incendiary defender has been widely puzzled over. Former allies trade possible explanations for his recent behavior: from the stresses related to the end of Mr. Giuliani’s third marriage last year; to the 2016 death of one of his best friends and top aides, Peter Powers; to the simple plunders of age.

What’s become evident is that Mr. Trump felt he needed a full-service protector and agitator in Washington, and Mr. Giuliani was eager for the job.

The thrice-married, attention-craving, outer-borough septuagenarians forged their own political marriage of convenience.

As Mr. Giuliani’s luster diminished as 9/11 receded, Mr. Trump offered him a next high-wire act, one that played out on the grandest of stages. Mr. Giuliani’s rambling, at times inaccurate and bizarre defenses of the president have horrified longtime associates and White House aides alike. “Truth isn’t truth,” Mr. Giuliani claimed in one widely mocked answer during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Even if Mr. Trump was guilty of collusion with Russia, Mr. Giuliani said in another appearance, “It’s not a crime.”

Mr. Trump appeared largely unbothered. He had grown weary of the mannered impulses of his Washington attorneys in Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. He cared little about lawyerly precision, so long as Mr. Giuliani set a street fighter’s tone. He appreciated Mr. Giuliani’s willingness to wage battle on his behalf in the media — the most important courtroom of all, in Mr. Trump’s view. He granted Mr. Giuliani a broad portfolio and long leash.

In return, Mr. Giuliani has proved manically loyal to Mr. Trump, a man he held in little regard during his New York days and largely dismissed as a clown, former associates say. But since Mr. Trump ascended to the White House, the former mayor has been seemingly willing to say and do anything on his patron’s behalf. He was mostly alone among aides willing to defend Mr. Trump in October 2016 when the Access Hollywood tape caught him boasting about his penchant for grabbing the genitals of non-consenting women. Mr. Trump came to view people’s responses to the Access Hollywood tape as the Rosetta Stone of loyalty tests. In the view of the future president, no one performed better than Mr. Giuliani.

Mr. Giuliani craved a high-level cabinet position for his efforts — reportedly secretary of state. But his thicket of business, financial and political entanglements would have made Senate confirmation difficult. Instead, he assumed the role of a kind of at-large fixer and henchman — first under the guise of “informal security consultant,” then as Mr. Trump’s “personal lawyer,” a catchall term incorporating an array of legal, political and advocacy projects.

This included the misadventures in Ukraine — an attempt to find information that would soil Mr. Biden’s son Hunter — that would eventually lead to Mr. Trump’s impeachment.

“There’s a particular theory in New York that the more shameless you are, the more successful you can be,” said Ken Frydman, a former press secretary and Giuliani loyalist, who has since become deeply mystified with his former boss.

He mentions Mr. Giuliani along with a host of other larger-than-life New York characters: Ed Koch, another former mayor of New York City; the Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist and television commentator; and certainly Mr. Trump himself.

Their intoxication with fame can cloud their better judgment. They scoff at notions such as “personal legacy,” dismissing them as the province of self-righteous pushovers. In an interview with The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin published in January, Mr. Giuliani flashed a moment of concern that the words “He lied for Trump” might appear on his gravestone.

But he quickly brushed off the prospect. “If it is, so what do I care,” he said, “I’ll be dead.”

Relative to others who have served Mr. Trump, Mr. Giuliani has proven durable. Dozens of aides and allies have met bad White House endings, suffered humiliating dismissals or wound up on the wrong side of presidential vendettas, smears and tweets.

Like the president, Mr. Giuliani has seemed to delight in the umbrage he has drawn. They also appear to share rue belief that their adversaries are genuinely bad people, the news media is out to get them and that no one is truly pure or innocent.

Fealty to Mr. Trump inside the today’s G.O.P. is such that the party did not even bother to formulate a platform beyond, essentially, whatever the president wants to do. No former Republican presidents or first ladies or respected party elders have spoken or are scheduled to this week. If this were a regular in-person convention, it’s likely that any mention of the last pre-Trump nominees — Mitt Romney and John McCain — would trigger a hail of Bronx cheers in the arena.

Rudy Giuliani, on the other hand, whose own 2008 presidential campaign spent $59 million to win a single delegate, would be cheered wildly. He would be fully restored to his post-9/11 glory — America’s Mayor again, at least in Donald Trump’s Washington.

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