April 8 (Bloomberg) -- In our current political climate of spitting on members of Congress and threatening to kill those you disagree with, revenge served cold looks like democracy at its finest. For this, we have former Mayor Rudy Giuliani to thank.
You will remember that in the campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, Giuliani -- like millions of New Yorkers before him -- went to Florida to die. Relying on his residual fame from 9/11 and a good tan from spending the winter in Miami Beach instead of Iowa or New Hampshire, he put all his eggs in the Sunshine State basket. This ended badly when John McCain squeezed him out of the presidential race like a Tropicana orange.
Giuliani blames his flameout not on himself but on Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who back in 2008 was one of the most popular Republicans in the country. Invited by Giuliani and his wife, Judith, to their summer home in the Hamptons, Crist, according to Giuliani, agreed one morning at breakfast to support him. A pledge over eggs and bacon is such a solemn one that Giuliani premised his entire primary strategy on it.
Crist never took the Long Island pact as seriously as Giuliani did. As summer gave way to winter, and as Giuliani began to look foolish sitting on the sidelines instead of competing up North, Crist remembered fondly how McCain had supported his 2006 gubernatorial race.
Three Days Left
The weekend before the primary, with McCain visiting Florida for the Pinellas County Lincoln Day Dinner, Crist announced that McCain was his guy. Three days later Giuliani’s presidential ambitions were dead, perhaps forever.
This week he went back to the scene of the crime to return the favor.
Speaking to a jammed banquet hall in Coral Gables, Giuliani endorsed Crist’s upstart challenger in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Marco Rubio, a young conservative beloved of Tea Partiers, as the person “we can trust to represent Republican principles in Washington.”
Mean? Vindictive? Enough to propel Crist to salvage his candidacy by running as an independent? Yes on all counts. We’d expect no less from Giuliani, who once punished a councilman by putting a homeless shelter in his neighborhood.
And how he enjoyed getting back at Crist. Barely bothering to argue that his decision was about Rubio, he insisted on a conference call with bloggers that it wasn’t about “whether Charlie Crist broke his word with me on several occasions. He did -- that’s the reality, that’s the truth -- he did break his word.”
The Right Payback
His relish of the moment makes it a teachable one for how to get back at those who do you wrong, who vote in ways you don’t like, with whom you disagree. Don’t accost your political enemies physically. Don’t threaten to kill them. Try old-fashioned payback at the ballot box.
How did we get to the place where murder is broached as a response to a piece of legislation? Yelling out like a madman at a joint session of Congress, hurling “baby killer” at a pro-life member voting for health care (one convinced there were no abortion funds in the bill), and encouraging your supporters to “reload” is heard by the sane and insane alike. There are so many reports of death threats and vandalism across the country that the FBI -- busy with other things, we can assume -- has to protect lawmakers.
Republicans thought Democrats were exaggerating the threats until one man was arrested for targeting Eric Cantor, the House Republican whip. Norman Leboon, who claimed to be the “son of the god of Enoch,” posted a video on YouTube vowing to hit “Lucifer” with “bullets in your office.” He’s now in custody.
‘Piece of Lead’
Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, got repeated calls from a blocked number saying, “there’s a target on your back now” and “it takes only one piece of lead.” The FBI traced the calls to the Yakima-area home of Charles Alan Wilson, who said he carries a .38-caliber revolver for which he has a concealed-weapon permit.
What happened to voting against somebody you don’t like? Murray is up for election this year.
Senator Tom Coburn, the arch-conservative doctor from Oklahoma, turned thoughtful this week at a town hall meeting recorded by KGOU radio. He defended House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom the Republican National Committee pictures going up in flames in a fundraising appeal, as a nice lady despite being “180 degrees in opposition” to her. To boos and hisses, he continued, “Come on now, she is a nice -- how many of you all have met her?”
Taking on Fox
More ominously for his own career, Coburn corrected a woman who rose to say that she feared imprisonment should she not buy health insurance. That kind of misinformation, he said, makes “for good TV news on Fox.”
A Republican official criticizes Fox News at his peril. The network can make or break a candidate with its potent and popular mix of overheated rhetoric and casual relationship with the facts -- as Coburn pointed out to the lady pondering jail time. He recommended that his constituents turn to a variety of news sources, not just “a pipe channel.”
Before Giuliani got on his case, Crist was pummeled by Fox for accepting stimulus funds for his state, coming as they did from that socialist Obama. If Coburn doesn’t watch his step, he may test whether Fox can send a politician into retirement with or without the help of “America’s mayor.”
(Margaret Carlson, author of “Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made It to the White House” and former White House correspondent for Time magazine, is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)
Click on “Send Comment” in the sidebar display to send a letter to the editor.
To contact the writer of this column: Margaret Carlson in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this column: James Greiff at email@example.com