Get ready for more Rudy.
Done sparring with Robert Mueller, Donald Trump’s personal attorney is now training his attacks on the president’s reelection rivals. Giuliani plans to meet with the president and his campaign in the coming weeks to discuss pivoting to this new role, which he expects will also include making policy and political connections for the 2020 effort.
“We’ll see where they have holes and where they need help,” Giuliani told Politico. “I’m available to do a lot of it.”
Giuliani has long served as an all-purpose attack dog for Trump — to mixed results. The president and some of his top aides have occasionally cringed at the lawyer’s frequent off-script messaging and rambling TV appearances that can spark one or more unexpected news cycles. “Handling Rudy’s f— ups takes more than one man,” a White House staffer told Politico in January.
But while even people around Trump say Giuliani’s freelancing can be problematic, they’re also willing to look the other way if it helps the president win another four years in office. After all, Giuliani is a name brand and gets credit from the president’s base for helping Trump survive the Mueller investigation. What’s more, Giuliani is one of the few Trump peers with national political and legal experience, someone who has known him for decades. He can even provide a calming presence — Giuliani said the president sometimes calls him “My Rudy” — to the famously uncalm president.
“The president is most effective when he’s in a great mood and he’s having fun on the campaign trial and Rudy adds to that,” said a Trump campaign adviser who also readily admitted that Giuliani’s faults can cause problems for others around the president. “I think he has the potential to be very effective in certain circumstances. He also has the potential to be unhelpful at times.”
“I imagine not all of Rudy’s ideas are brilliant ones, but the vast majority are and I’ll take the good with the bad,” added Michael Caputo, a longtime Trump adviser who met with the president last month in Washington, D.C.
Campaign pugilist isn’t exactly a new position for the former New York mayor, who will mark his 75th birthday on Tuesday with a celebration in a Yankee Stadium luxury suite. Starting in early 2016, Giuliani arranged some of Trump’s first policy briefings and later accepted an invitation to ride alongside the rookie candidate on the campaign plane, enjoying exclusive access to key advisers like Brad Parscale, Stephen Miller and Jeff Sessions. His speech at the Republican National Convention that summer in Cleveland captured the double-edged benefits of putting Giuliani front and center — the bellicose ex-mayor pumped up the conservative crowd with attacks on Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration, though some in the hall also murmured that Giuliani seemed “unhinged.”
As Trump’s attorney, Giuliani talks to the president two or three times a week and makes twice-a-month White House visits. He’s also a regular media presence defending the president, an act he’s continued since the end of the Mueller probe last month. Giuliani has launched fusillades on Trump’s potential Democratic rivals, including Joe Biden and Bill de Blasio and swinging away at the expanding congressional investigations that are threatening to morph into impeachment proceedings.
Now, Giuliani is being cast as someone who can reprise the “jack-of-all-trades” role he played during the 2016 presidential campaign, helping senior aides brainstorm policy ideas and mark up speeches, introducing Trump at rallies and serving as the president’s private sounding board. It also means letting Giuliani be Giuliani during his media hits, drawing eye-rolling fact checks from reporters but giving the president a megaphone for whatever he wants to say, however politically incorrect it may be.
“I think he can be a great warm up act,” said the Trump campaign adviser. “Having him on the plane is a great idea. As a core messenger he can get sloppy with details and also leave a lot of shrapnel on the ground.”
A second member of the president’s close circle of advisers agreed with the assessment that it’s worth taking the bad Giuliani in order to get the good Giuliani.
“We view him as a necessary component to the overall picture, because there are frequently messages that the president absolutely needs and wants to get out and he serves that role ably and cheerfully,” the source said. “That’s the best way to characterize him. If there wasn’t a Rudy Giuliani, we’d have to invent one.”
Former White House aides say they cringed when Giuliani entered the public stage about midway through the Russia probe. His messaging and behavior didn’t seem to hold a legitimate legal or political purpose. After some of his worst performances on TV, Giuliani went notably quiet. Just weeks into his assignment, an Associated Press story noted Trump was asking around whether he should sideline his lawyer from making so many questionable media appearances. The New Yorker last fall labeled him “Trump’s clown.”
Giuliani acknowledged the gripes at the start of 2019 but said no one would complain directly to him. “They just do it behind my back,” he told Politico.
Looking toward 2020, Giuliani said he’s ready to get back on the campaign plane (or bus). He said he can be a helpful surrogate for Trump in blue collar portions of expected battleground states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as in places that seem to be on the edge of the 2020 fight, like Indiana and Minnesota. He’s also eager to connect with Trump supporters and wavering independents in western states like Arizona and Nevada and wherever large numbers of New Yorkers live, including Florida and both Carolinas.
Caputo, who worked as one of Trump’s early 2016 advisers, offered gushing praise for Giuliani coming out of the Mueller investigation, namely for the role the lawyer played in keeping the president out of a sit-down interview with the special counsel that Trump allies viewed as a “perjury trap” for the free-speaking Trump. Caputo has urged the Trump campaign to think of Giuliani as “surrogate No. 1” for the president after his immediate family and Vice President Mike Pence.
“Because so many people realize the vital role he played in defending the president through the Russia hoax, I think his surrogacy would appeal across the entire base,” he said. “And I think everybody wants to hear from him. In fact, I can’t think of one demographic in the column of the president that would not want to hear from him.”
Putting Giuliani on the campaign trail would also give Trump’s campaign someone who can speak freely about a Russia probe that the president sees as a rallying cry to his base — his campaign has been raising money and building email lists off the issue.
“Having spent so much time at the elbow of the president, he knows what happened better than most so he can explain it better than most,” Caputo said.
Trump has elevated Giuliani back to national prominence in a way he hadn’t experienced since 2008, when Giuliani was an early front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. It was a moment that didn’t last. Giuliani’s nascent campaign fell apart amid conflict of interest concerns over his lucrative international lobbying and consulting businesses, as well as GOP base voters who questioned his more liberal views on abortion and same-sex marriage.
All of the exposure connected to his work for Trump hasn’t exactly helped Giuliani’s wider public image, which soared after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when Giuliani became “America’s Mayor.” He was seen as a national leader who united the country who could go encourage the country to laugh again on Saturday Night Live.
But a Gallup poll last June had Giuliani’s favorable ratings at their lowest point since measuring started in 2004, a dip that longtime aides chalked up to his association with the president. Giuliani’s only SNL presence these days is as the butt of jokes.
“He’s always been willing to throw away some of his own popularity to help his friends,” said Mike DuHaime, a New Jersey-based political operative who managed Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign.
But going forward, Giuliani is primed to serve a useful purpose for the president by taking aim at the Democratic field, said DuHaime.
“He’s an expert at dissecting and honing in on the weaknesses of the other candidates,” he said. “He takes that prosecutorial style. No matter who the nominee is on the other side, Rudy will be good at finding a weakness and being able to explain that weakness, almost like he’s talking to a jury.”
Giuliani’s broadsides haven’t spared anyone, including Democrats at the back of the pack.
“America will find out what New Yorkers know. When you call him Big Bird, it’s a compliment,” Giuliani said recently about Bill de Blasio, the Democratic New York mayor who recently launched a presidential bid.
Perhaps his biggest focus, though, has been Biden, who leads several early Democratic primary polls. Earlier this month, Giuliani said he was planning to travel to the Ukraine to urge the country’s president-elect to investigate Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son, over his involvement in a Ukrainian energy company. Giuliani also insinuated that Joe Biden had somehow nefariously used his position as vice president to squash an investigation, without offering any evidence.
Giuliani later backed out of the trip as Democrats accused him of openly trying to encourage a foreign country to meddle in an American election. The country’s lead prosecutor also told reporters he’d found no evidence of wrongdoing by either Hunter or Joe Biden, and media reports have further poked holes in Giuliani’s theories.
But Trump allies said Giuliani’s mission was nonetheless accomplished — even if it was just to raise suspicions about Trump’s potential opponent next fall.
“The information is now out there,” Duhaime said. “He’s about getting the job done and not about what other people may think about him.”
Democrats openly mock Giuliani. They deride him as a conflicted lobbyist whose comments during the course of the Russia probe — “Truth isn’t truth,” the president’s lawyer famously said last summer — belie his reliability.
“He’s a figure who is discredited in terms of speaking to the facts, by his own tongue,” said Sidney Blumenthal, the longtime associate of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Julian Epstein, a former top House Democratic aide during the Clinton impeachment effort, said Giuliani is ineffective because of his miscues.
“The rule about a junkyard dog is you don’t want to make yourself the issue. That’s what Rudy does,” Epstein said. “For the base, you get a good dopamine hit for him. But for swing voters [and] independents, I think he underscores the lack of credibility he has.”
But Ellen Qualls, who ran the Obama 2012 surrogate operation, said Giuliani fits all the criteria for an effective Trump proxy, including his ability to attack opponents.
“Stylistically, that won’t work for Caroline Kennedy. But it will work for Rudy Giuliani,” she said.
“You might think that the job of a surrogate is to remain on message and not distract from the words of the candidate, but I’d throw the rulebook out with regard to President Trump,” she added. “He’s more likely to want to see Giuliani on TV speaking because that’s a minute taken away from Kamala Harris or another Democrat on TV.”
What he says doesn’t really matter.
“Even if it’s not on message,” Qualls said, “it’s a good minute for the Trump campaign in their eyes.”