Rudy Giuliani went straight for the jugular Wednesday night during a private group dinner here featuring Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker by openly questioning whether President Barack Obama "loves America." The former New York mayor, speaking in front of the 2016 Republican presidential contender and about 60 right-leaning business executives and conservative media types, directly challenged Obama's patriotism.
It's been 18 years since Rudy Giuliani actually won an election, but the former Republican mayor still fancies himself an important political player. Indeed, his self-proclaimed relevance leads him to make all kinds of public appearances, where Giuliani has an unfortunate habit of saying dumb things.
Take last night, for example.
According to the Politico report, Giuliani told the audience, "I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn't love you. And he doesn't love me. He wasn't brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country."
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a likely Republican presidential candidate, was ostensibly the featured guest at the event. He was seated near Giuliani during his condemnations of the president, but said nothing.
On Fox News this morning, Giuliani added, "I'm not questioning his patriotism."
No, of course not. All Giuliani is saying is that the war-time president who rescued the country from the Great Recession doesn't love America or Americans. Why would anyone see that as an attack on Obama's patriotism?
Look, I realize Giuliani has effectively become a caricature of himself, and there's no point in getting worked up every time the mayor makes a stupid comment, because it happens far too often. The poor guy doesn't even seem to understand what the word "patriotism" means anymore.
But there's a broader context to this that shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.
For one thing, it's striking that after six years, lazy partisans are stuck repeating the same old garbage. For much of 2008, assorted far-right hacks based much of their campaign rhetoric on the notion that Barack Obama was The Other and they deemed his love of country short of their standards. It was based on nothing but bigotry and ignorance, and the American mainstream rejected it.
And yet, in 2015, the cheap, toxic rhetoric lingers. Unwilling or unable to engage the president on matters of policy, too many Republicans find it easier to attack the president personally, based on imaginary slights against the country.
Dear Rudy, at the height of U.S./Russian tensions, you went on national television to declare Vladimir Putin a great leader. Maybe the president isn't the one whose patriotism needs questioning.
As for Walker, it's obviously not fair to blame the governor for Giuliani's buffoonery, and I seriously doubt Walker knew what Giuliani was going to say in advance. But Walker now has an opportunity to make clear to the public that he finds such ugliness unacceptable.
It's a test of leadership -- is the Wisconsin Republican willing to distance himself from ugly and stupid attacks on the president's patriotism? Walker was on CNBC this morning and could have denounced Giuliani's nonsense, but he didn't. Will that soon change?
I think it's safe to say that if President Obama was on the campaign trail, and an ally declared that Mitt Romney doesn't love America or Americans, there would be an expectation that Obama condemn the comments. Indeed, many would expect Obama to agree not to campaign alongside that person again.
So what's it going to be, Gov. Walker? Are you comfortable with Giuliani's drivel or not?