Former New York mayor, conservative commentator and failed presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani explored some of his baser opinions on the topic of President Barack Obama's patriotism while talking to a private group including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday.
"I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America," Giuliani said during the dinner at the 21 Club, a former Prohibition-era speakeasy in midtown Manhattan. "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."
The rant was motivated in part by Obama's refusal to label Islamic State an Islamic extremist group, which the POTUS recently told the press was part of a strategy to prevent IS militants from legitimizing their religious agenda, and by the president's description of crimes committed by Christians throughout history at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month. According to Politico, Giuliani also shared some... provocative opinions on the world's 1.6 billion Muslims:
"I thought the Crown Heights riots were a pogrom because you're going out trying to kill Jews," Giuliani said. "Why is this man incapable of saying that? You've got to be able to criticize Islam for the parts of Islam that are wrong. You criticize Christianity for the part of Christianity that is wrong. I'm not sure how wrong the Crusades are. The Crusades were kind of an equal battle between two groups of barbarians. The Muslims and the crusading barbarians. What the hell? What's wrong with this man that he can't stand up and say there's a part of Islam that's sick?"
The White House agreed with one thing the former mayor said: The statements are "horrible." Giuliani himself tried to take it back, telling Fox News that "[President Obama is] a patriot, I'm sure," but stepped in a big steaming pile of insincerity while walking back his remarks by telling the New York Times that there's no way his comments could be construed as racist, since the president "was brought up by a white mother."
Walker himself refused to defend Giuliani, but he won't denounce him, either.
Giuliani was right about one thing: His comments were horrible. His portrayal of the president as some kind of sniveling, America-hating Fifth Columnist is an old canard right-wing circles. It's the GOP meme that won't die. As Daily Banter's Mike Luciano points out, this particular Republican talking point seems to be deployed with the express intent of portraying the president as "something alien to what Americans are used to" — "the 'Other.'"
It's difficult not to imagine there's something racial at work when mainly white Republicans have repeatedly pulled on that same string. Take former GOP Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who back in 2010 appealed to birthers and supremacists alike by suggesting Obama's way of thinking was so foreign it could only be understood from the standpoint of an African radical rebelling against colonial authorities:
"What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?" Gingrich asks. "That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior."
Giuliani echoed this sentiment in his interview with the New York Times, declaring the president's way of thinking as indicative of "socialism or possibly anti-colonialism."
Other prominent Republican elected officials and fringe maniacs (the two aren't mutually exclusive) like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Donald Trump have also made more-or-less openly racist accusations that Obama isn't even an American citizen, instead wink-nudge endorsing conspiracy theories speculating that the president is actually from Kenya. One survey of 295 students was even able to provide empirical evidence that negative perceptions of the president's inherent "Americanism" were strongly correlated with other racist beliefs and tendencies. By 2011, just more than half of polled Republicans admitted to suspicions of the president's true citizenship.
And while we're accusing leaders of poor patriotism... Last year, Giuliani was among the cabal of misguided Republicans praising Russian President Vladimir Putin for his aggressive foreign policy and autocratic tendencies. In 2014, the former mayor practically serenaded Putin from across the world on Your World with Neil Cavuto:
GIULIANI: Putin decides what he wants to do and he does it in half a day, right? He decided he had to go to their parliament. He went to their parliament. He got permission in 15 minutes.
CAVUTO: Well, that was kind of, like, perfunctory.
GIULIANI: But he makes a decision and he executes it, quickly. Then everybody reacts. That's what you call a leader. President Obama, he's got to think about it. He's got to go over it again. He's got to talk to more people about it.
Giuliani knew exactly what he was suggesting, and expected exactly the favorable hoot-and-holler response he reportedly got at the dinner. What he didn't expect was to be recorded at a private dinner for one of the country's most conservative governors. Now that he's been caught appealing to a very specific strain of right-wing racism red-handed, the former mayor is attempting to do damage control — and going about it terribly.
Unfortunately for Giuliani, this is the kind of statement you can't just walk back. He may have just consigned himself to the same kind of ignominy that now greets other far-right GOP commentators like Herman Cain, Trump, and Palin who didn't have the sense to know when to shut up.