Things weren't going well for Rudy Giuliani. Bad weather delayed his arrival by 90 minutes at the Starlite ballroom in Davenport, Iowa, on Wednesday evening. When he finally walked into the room, the crowd of around 200 stood and cheered--only to watch Hizzoner walk straight toward the restrooms.
After he resurfaced, complete with a wireless microphone, his opening gambit bombed. Giuliani explained that traveling was difficult--so difficult, in fact, that he deserved "bonus miles" for all his effort on the campaign trail. The excessively patient audience looked as if it wanted its own upgrade. It took the former New York mayor another 20 minutes to get any kind of reaction from the crowd. That came when a woman sneezed in the front row. His regular applause lines about vanquishing terrorists and lowering crime left the room as silent as a cornfield in October. His final questioner seemed to capture the mood, asking--only half in jest--"the next time you're running late, can you call ahead and open up the bar?"
It's bad enough that Giuliani--the GOP front runner nationwide--has been languishing in third or fourth place in Iowa polls, alongside the ex-governor of a small state with no cash. But Giuliani faced a bigger problem in Davenport: this crowd of caucus-goers seemed tougher than he is on abortion and softer than he is on national security.
One audience member, Linda Gustitus, left the mayor flummoxed with a simple question about torture. Gustitus said she was part of a group called the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and wanted to know why Giuliani's longtime friend, Michael Mukasey, had dodged a key question on the subject during his confirmation hearings for the job of attorney general. "Do you think waterboarding is torture?" she asked Giuliani.
Giuliani insisted that Mukasey was totally clear in his answers, before ducking the question himself. "It depends on how it's done," he explained. "It depends on the circumstances. It depends on who does it."
Perhaps sensing this wasn't going over so well, Giuliani reached for his favorite bogeyman (after Hillary Clinton and Islamic terrorists): the lefty press. "The way it's described in the liberal media, [waterboarding] should not be done," he explained. "But I have learned something from being in public life this long. I hate to describe it like this. Newspapers don't always describe it accurately."
If you describe waterboarding as simulated drowning, Giuliani is against it. But if you describe it as tough interrogation, he's on board. "We should not torture," Giuliani said. "America should not stand for torture. But America should engage in aggressive questioning of Islamic terrorists ... The line between the two is very delicate and very difficult. But we can't abandon aggressive questioning."
Then Giuliani tried a lighter note. "They talk about sleep deprivation," he said. "I'm getting tortured running for president!" Between the lack of sleep and the missing air miles, presidential campaigns can sometimes feel just like Guantánamo Bay.