Using some of the toughest language of his campaign, Giuliani, in an interview with Politico, slammed Romney on health care, crime and taxes. At the same time he portrayed the one-time moderate as a hypocrite on a host of social issues who lives “in a glass house.” It was easily the most sweeping attack Giuliani has delivered against Romney in this campaign.
“He throws stones at people,” Giuliani said in an interview on his campaign bus. “And then on that issue he usually has a worse record than whoever he’s throwing stones at.”
The Romney camp responded by calling Giuliani's attack "nasty" and offering a point-by-point rebuttal.
Judging by Giuliani's rhetoric, he has appeared for weeks to be running more against New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, than any of his Republican foes. But as his poll numbers have dipped in this critical state, the former New York mayor has stepped up his campaign schedule and TV presence and also begun to take dead aim at Romney, whom polls show as the GOP front-runner here.
“I think there’s a difference between a guy who gets results, real results, that were applauded nationwide and somebody who had a mixed record at best as governor,” Giuliani said.
In the interview, Giuliani, hammered on Romney’s gubernatorial record issue by issue:
• Health care: “The one thing he’s known for is health care,” Giuliani said, referring to Romney’s signature initiative aimed at insuring all Massachusetts citizens. “And the health care is the thing he’s now abandoned for the rest of the country. It contained a very big mistake, which he realizes is a very big mistake, the mandate.”
The Massachusetts health care plan compels citizens to sign up for their choice of coverage and levies what Giuliani deemed “a tax” on those who don’t. The health care proposal Romney has laid out in the presidential contest includes no such mandate.
“That’s not the way to expand health care,” Giuliani continued. “The way to expand health care is through the program that I’ve talked about, which Mitt Romney has now adopted.”
Giuliani has proposed offering tax credits that can be used to purchase health insurance.
• Crime: “He had a poor record,” Giuliani said. “Violent crime went up, murder went up while he was governor. In both of those categories we had historic decreases,” he said of his years in New York.
• Taxes: “He tried to bring about tax cuts," Giuliani said. "He failed to do it. I tried to bring about tax cuts. I succeeded in doing it.”
Though he often brags about cutting 23 taxes as mayor, Giuliani conceded that whether it was really that many has been questioned. But either way, he said, his effort stood well apart from that of Romney.
“The dispute is between whether I get credit for 23 tax reductions or 15. Compared to Romney, I’m ahead 15-nothing or 23-nothing. He got no tax cuts done," said Giuliani, sitting in a black-leather captain’s chair with his pinstriped suit jacket off.
The decision to go on the attack, a clearly calculated move, is striking for at least two reasons.
First, Giuliani's rhetoric — along with his three-day, retail-heavy visit and expansive ad buy here — signals that he recognizes the importance of winning or at least finishing strong in one of the two traditional kickoff states.
Romney, as Giuliani pointedly noted later in the chat, is not (at least right now) a threat in the later, larger states where the former mayor has spent considerble time and where he enjoys commanding double-digit leads.
Further, by narrowing his critique to just Romney and essentially waving off the opportunity to contrast his record with other GOP rivals, Giuliani makes plain that he believes Romney is a threat and likely the most significant one to his winning the Republican nomination.
Indeed, when asked directly about both Romney and Arizona Sen. John McCain, Giuliani chose to aim his guns only at the former governor.
“Sen. McCain has never been in an executive position,” Giuliani explained. “So it’s not even fair to measure that.”
But, more tellingly, Giuliani added that he respects McCain. “He’s one of my friends, and he’s one of my heroes,” Giuliani said before launching into a critique of Romney that included no such warm words.
To be sure, Romney has, without provocation, hammered Giuliani for months on issues as diverse as immigration, spending and abortion. He has even begun to compare the New Yorker to Clinton, the Empire State’s junior senator — true fighting words in the GOP — and Romney did so again on Sunday.
But, also for months, Giuliani chose not to respond — appearing to try to stay above the fray and let his staff bloody his rivals behind the scenes.
In an interview with Politico in early October, also in New Hampshire, Giuliani argued that he could unite the party after the nomination battle because he had no plans to go after his rivals.
“It’s my intention not to attack any other Republicans, absolutely,” Giuliani said. “The whole focus of my campaign is I’m going to run against a Democrat.”
Asked after Sunday’s interview why Giuliani was going on the offensive now, communications director Katie Levinson said Romney “has attacked and misrepresented the mayor’s record for months. At some point, enough is enough.”
Not surprisingly, Romney’s campaign responded to Giuliani’s tough talk by claiming he was spooked by Romney's lead in New Hampshire, where polls show the former governor with a double-digit advantage.
“It’s due in large part to fact that he’s slipping in polls,” said Romney spokesman Kevin Madden. “There is a sense of desperation coming from the mayor.”
But signaling the Romney campaign's own new line of attack, Madden also repeatedly used the word “nasty” in a brief interview to rebut Giuliani’s charges. “What you’re seeing is the emergence of a very nasty tone from Mayor Giuliani,” Madden said.
The adjective is meant to portray the sharper, more temperamental side of the former mayor that has been largely bottled up in the campaign. It has been used repeatedly by his New York critics to describe his personality and was the title — “Nasty Man” — of former Mayor Ed Koch’s critical 1999 book.
As for the charges, Madden said Romney did not include a mandate in his national health care proposal because different states have different health care needs and markets. “What works for Massachusetts does not necessarily work for other states,” Madden said.
On taxes, Madden said Romney “wiped away a $3 billion deficit without raising taxes” and did so in the face of a Democratic-controlled legislature.
As for crime, Romney himself said on the campaign trail Sunday in New Hampshire that Giuliani was “making up facts” and that FBI statistics show violent crime went down during his term.
This last issue has become particularly sensitive since a convicted killer who was freed without bail by a Romney-appointed judge was arrested last week in Washington state in connection with two homicides committed after his release.
Regarding Giuliani’s contention that he was only counter-punching now because Romney had been relentlessly hitting im, Madden defended the Romney campaign's attacks “as very substantive and very relevant.”
Giuliani, who was joined on the bus by four aides and a former Massachusetts governor, Paul Cellucci, appeared at ease, if at times demonstrative, in the 30-minute conversation with Politico, the Chicago Tribune and the American Spectator.
As he does in his television commercials, Giuliani also alluded to his well-chronicled imperfections.
“I’ve had a very full life, which means lots of successes and some great big failures,” he admitted with a chuckle.
When asked why, if Romney had such a mediocre record, he had established a lead in some states, Giuliani shot back a good-natured “duh” rejoinder.
“Why do you think?” he asked this reporter with a smile, before noting Romney’s heavy spending on television commercials.
“Where Romney hasn’t spent money, Romney’s at 8, 9 percent. Where he’s spent 8 or 9 million dollars, he’s at best competitive; he doesn’t have a commanding lead.”
In places where no campaigns have yet put ads on the air, Giuliani noted, he enjoys a strong advantage.
The bottom line, he added, is that Romney has a lead only where he has spent considerable cash and others have spent little or nothing.
“But that’s going to change,” he promised.