On the February 5 edition of MSNBC Live, in a discussion of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's (R) plans to file a "statement of candidacy" for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, Hardball host Chris Matthews declared that Giuliani "has street cred" on the issue of "protect[ing] this country against the bad guys," citing "the image [Giuliani] conveys," and later praised Giuliani's 2004 Republican National Convention speech as "the great speech that everybody remembered."
But in that speech, Giuliani was unclear about the "bad guys." He repeated a prominent administration falsehood about Al Qaeda, asserting an Iraq link to 9-11:
And it was here in 2001, in the same lower Manhattan, that President George W. Bush stood amid the fallen towers of the World Trade Center, and he said to the barbaric terrorists who attacked us, 'They will hear from us.' Well, they heard from us. They heard from us in Afghanistan, and we removed the Taliban. They heard from us... They heard from us in Iraq, and we ended Saddam Hussein's reign of terror. ... So long -- so long as George Bush is our president, is there any doubt they will continue to hear from us until we defeat global terrorism? We owe that much and more to the loved ones and heroes that we lost on September 11th.
In the book Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11 (HarperCollins, 2006), Village Voice senior editor Wayne Barrett and CBSNews.com senior producer Dan Collins wrote that "Giuliani had managed, in a few short sentences, to forge the Saddam connection to 9-11 in the American mind that he was uniquely positioned to infer" (Page 332).
On September 18, 2003, President Bush conceded that "we've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September the 11th," although Bush added that "There's no question that Saddam Hussein had Al Qaeda ties." The Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on September 8, 2006, that concluded "Saddam Hussein was distrustful of al-Qa'ida and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al-Qa'ida to provide material or operational support," and that "[n]o postwar information indicates that Iraq intended to use al-Qa'ida or any other terrorist group to strike the United States homeland before or during Operation Iraqi Freedom."
Further, in their book, Barrett and Collins noted that "Giuliani conceded that he began to broaden his knowledge of al Qaeda only after 9-11" (Page 105).
Amid Matthews' gushing over Giuliani was his claim that Giuliani "is a front-runner because the voters like this guy because during 9-11 he was the one guy there on the street corner, not hiding like all the other pols did." Barrett and Collins note that when Giuliani heard about the disaster, his "original destination" wasn't "the street corner" but his "much-ballyhooed command center" (Page 6). However, Giuliani could not go there. Then-New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, "who was waiting to meet [Giuliani], decided it was too dangerous to bring the mayor up to the command center [Giuliani] had so carefully and expensively built" in the World Trade Center complex (Page 340).
According to Barrett and Collins, Giuliani selected the location of his Office of Emergency Management's (OEM) command center, "overrul[ing]" warnings from a previous police commissioner, Howard Safir, and NYPD chief operating officer Lou Anemone not to put the command center at 7 WTC and "[r]ejecting an already secure, technologically advanced city facility across the Brooklyn Bridge" because Giuliani "insisted on a command center within walking distance of City Hall" (Page 41). Giuliani's "walking distance" constraint helped lead to his placing OEM's command center on the 23rd floor of 7 World Trade Center, which collapsed on 9-11.
As Media Matters for America noted, Matthews similarly touted Giuliani for president on the July 18, 2006, edition of NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, saying "I think we want a president -- like, we grew up in a big city, you know, I grew up near Boston -- four-alarm fire, the police commissioner's there, the police, the fire commissioner's there, the mayor's there. They're standing on the street corner telling us what's going on as they look up at the fire."
Matthews also asserted on MSNBC Live that the "naysaying [that] '[Giuliani] can't possibly win because he's pro-choice' " has been "going for about two years," but that "the public, knowing that, keeps putting him at the top of their list." Presumably, Matthews was referring to polls in which Giuliani was the number-one choice for the Republican nomination. However, USA Today reported on January 31 that in a USA Today/Gallup poll:
Barely one in five Republicans knew that he supports abortion rights and civil unions for same-sex couples, the USA TODAY poll found. Nearly as many thought he was "pro-life" as said he was "pro-choice."
When they were told about his stance on those issues, his star dimmed. One in five Republicans said his views would "rule him out as a candidate" they could support. That included one-third of those who attend church every week, an important base of the GOP that makes up a third of party loyalists.
Another 25% of Republicans said his views made them less likely to support him, nearly double the proportion who said they made them more likely to support him.
As Media Matters noted, Matthews made a New Year's "journalist resolution" on the December 31 edition of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthew Show: "Despite everything I say, seeing the arguments for people like Giuliani, because the conventional wisdom opposes that kind of argument, I am going to keep completely open-minded, from now to the next general election for president, about who would be our next best president."
From the February 5 edition of MSNBC Live:
CONTESSA BREWER (anchor): Chris, are you saying that people who are -- I don't know -- anti-abortion or anti-divorce -- on all these social issues, they would differ so far from Giuliani and they would still vote for him?
MATTHEWS: I am saying conventional wisdom that you're speaking now is wrong. The issue in the country today is security. Who's going to protect this country against the bad guys? Everybody agrees that's the number one concern in the country today, and everyone agrees that Rudy has street cred on that issue. He can protect us. That's the image he conveys. Certainly we can argue about those other issues, and in other times they might be the paramount issues, but in -- in what passes for wartime right now in the minds of many Americans, it's time to pick a commander in chief. That's the premier hat he has to put on. Not health care expert. Not economic czar. Not moral czar. Commander in chief. That's the hat I think he fits the best, and it's the one we're looking to fill. Look at [Sen.] Hillary [Rodham Clinton (D-NY)]. She's trying her darnedest to look like a commander in chief, to look like the armed services expert, to be a bit of a [former British Prime Minister] Margaret Thatcher. She would love to have the street cred that Rudy Giuliani brings to this election. Just think about it. He has what the others want. And so I'm not -- I know how easy it is to parrot the conventional wisdom. I hear it all the time on television. Tell that to the voters who keep saying he's their favorite candidate. So, I think he's one of the three or four people who has a real good shot at being the next president, and I think he's going to get out there and fight for it. He's going to have to go to those conservative parts of the country and fight for it, but let me tell you where he is popular. The suburbs of Philadelphia, the suburbs of New York City, the suburbs of Chicago.
MATTHEWS: You don't smell the urine in the subways when he was mayor. You could actually walk around at night with your teenage kids. He did that long before 9-11. So this idea that he's one of these also-rans, an interesting novelty act so that we can put [Sen. Sam] Brownback [R-KS] in the White House is crazy. He is a front-runner because the voters like this guy because during 9-11, he was the one guy there on the street corner, answering questions, not hiding like all the other pols did.
MATTHEWS: And all you can do is listen to the -- the punditocracy, which is out there saying that Rudy can't win. Funny thing is, after all this naysaying -- and it's been going for about two years, this naysaying: "He can't possibly win because he's pro-choice." -- how come the public, knowing that, keeps putting him at the top of their list --
BREWER: Yeah, it's true.
MATTHEWS: -- because security's their number-one concern. I guess I've spent my life fighting conventional wisdom, and I keep fighting because it's almost always wrong. And on this guy -- just think about the 2004 Republican convention. Who gave the great speech that everybody remembered? Rudy Giuliani. Who had that crowd in his hands? Rudy Giuliani. And those delegates come from all over the Bible Belt.