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RCP Interview: Forbes on Giuliani

By Tom Bevan

In an interview yesterday, publishing mogul and former Republican Presidential candidate Steve Forbes elaborated on his endorsement last week of Rudy Giuliani for President. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Forbes said Giuliani was the "real fiscal conservative" in the presidential race.

Yesterday Forbes recounted Giuliani's record of cutting taxes 23 times as Mayor of New York City despite facing an overwhelmingly Democratic city council and a hostile media. "The fact that Rudy did what he did in the most inhospitable environment possible is a testament to his instincts on economic policy and to his ability to push things through when others might have thrown up their hands in despair," Forbes said.

Since leaving office, Forbes said, Giuliani has "deepened his economic principles," adding that Rudy appears "very favorably disposed to radical simplification of the tax code."

Mr. Forbes ran for President in 1996 and 2000 as a economic conservative whose hallmark policy proposal was the flat tax. As the New York Times reported recently, Giuliani opposed Forbes' flat tax proposal at the time. Asked if the flat tax was something he would push this time around in his role as Senior Economic Advisor to the Giuliani campaign, Mr. Forbes declined to get into specifics but said that Giuliani is "open to doing something major" with respect to taxes and economic policy.

"In the past he [Giuliani] has been willing to buck established opinion -- which dictates you either don't do these things or you simply slice around the edges -- that's not his instinct," Forbes said. Noting that "complexity does not deter him," Forbes cited Giuliani's record of prosecuting the mafia and his ability to drastically reduce the crime rate in New York City as two indicators of Giuliani's leadership and his "fearlessness" in taking on big issues. "Rudy has good political instincts, but he doesn't tilt at windmills," he said.

Forbes was equally impressed with Giuliani's record of "follow through" on the big issues he tackled. "I like his attention to detail as an executive," Forbes said. "He's a hands-on manager and a workaholic."

Forbes went on to cast Giuliani's management style in the context of him assuming the role of Commander-in-Chief. "If you have a war overseas," Forbes said, "Rudy will be there -- maybe not every week, but often -- looking at metrics, measuring progress. He's not going to take the words of others, he'll want to get a real feel for what's going on. In terms of the war on terror or the war against Islamic fascism, Rudy will keep pushing."

Asked whether Giuliani's position on social issues would be an impediment to winning the Republican nomination, Forbes ticked through a number of reasons he's confident Giuliani will pass muster with Republican primary voters.

First, Forbes cited Giuliani's commitment to appointing strict constructionist judges in the mold of Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito as a major factor in swaying primary voters. "Sadly, the courts are where social policy is made these days," Forbes said.

Forbes pointed to Giuliani's willingness to take a stand against the Brooklyn Museum of Art's offensive "Piss Christ" display in 1999 as an example of his respect for people of faith and of religion in the public sphere. "Rudy challenged [the Museum] over it and said, 'you can't do this with taxpayer money. If you want to use private money, fine, but you can't use tax payer money,'" Forbes said. "He fought them and tried to take the money away and got vilified in the press."

Forbes also noted that voters should look at the effect of Giuliani's policies while in office. "Thanks to Giuliani's success on welfare reform, where rolls were cut 60%, the abortion rate in New York City fell faster than the national average," Forbes said. "Rudy may be pro-choice -- and I happen to be pro-life -- but the policies he pursued help the pro-life cause."

Asked specifically about the issue of gun control, Forbes said Giuliani's position has to be looked at in the context of his role as mayor of the largest city in America, which -- at the time -- had an out-of-control murder rate that fell by 70% during Giuliani's tenure. Giuliani has "no hidden agenda to try and confiscate guns," Forbes said, adding, "law abiding gun owners don't have to fear Rudy Giuliani."

"Rudy is not going to shirk these questions," Forbes said. "As people learn more about what he did as Mayor they'll have a better understanding of him."

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics. Email:

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