Column: What makes Rudy Giuliani’s son think he should be governor of New York?
What does it say about the state of our democracy that Andrew Giuliani — onetime pro golfer, Trump factotum and son of the man formerly known as “America’s mayor” — could conceivably become the Republican candidate for governor of New York?
I wrote about young Giuliani as a bit of a goof a year ago, shortly after he announced that he was running in the June 28 GOP primary. I described him as an “empty suit” in a column about unqualified candidates. It honestly never occurred to me that he would be taken seriously.
But then I woke up one recent morning to the news that a poll had put him up by five points with only a month to go, ahead of the better-funded, four-term member of Congress who has been endorsed by the state GOP organization and other more-qualified candidates. True, there have also been polls that show the race closer, but still I’m in shock: How can this even be in the realm of the possible?
Nicholas Goldberg served 11 years as editor of the editorial page and is a former editor of the Op-Ed page and Sunday Opinion section.
Giuliani’s resume is as thin as wallpaper. So thin he still touts his undergraduate honors on his Giuliani-for-Governor website. And his post-college internships. And he notes that he played professional golf for seven years.
That’s how he caught the eye of his dad’s old friend Donald Trump.
Andrew Giuliani and Trump have been golf buddies ever since; and in 2017, the president offered Giuliani what appears to have been his first real job — at the White House. His chief responsibility, apparently, was to serve as a liaison to visiting sports teams. Then (“after dining at Mar-A-Lago with Rudy Giuliani,” according to Axios), Trump gave the son the title “special assistant to the president.”
Giuliani says on his website that as a staffer he helped Trump “craft policy,” including the 2017 tax cuts. But one former White House reporter I spoke to told me Andrew was merely a “sycophant,” a guy Trump liked to golf with. The reporter added: “I don’t remember him ever being involved with anything serious.”
Now — having never run for mayor or the legislature or city council or school board — the 36-year-old Giuliani is in contention to lead a state government with several hundred thousand employees and an annual budget of more than $200 billion.
One of the most damaging legacies of the Trump presidency is that it persuaded people with absolutely no experience to run for public office.
It is highly unlikely that Giuliani will become governor. For one thing, he very well may not win the primary. And even if he does, he will probably lose in November. The last time a Republican was elected governor of New York was in 2002. The path is not easy for a candidate who mocks leftists and socialists, mask mandates, AOC and President Biden. (“Does he even know he’s president of the United States?” the Washington Post quoted Giuliani saying, echoing his golf partner.)
But it’s not impossible either. Not these days.
So how does it come to pass that a nobody like Giuliani has a chance of winning?
Nepotism, of course!
Being the son of a well-known politician like Rudy Giuliani of course grants you jobs, connections, access to donors, an early introduction to the business — all the things that Andrew Giuliani means when he says that being a politician is “in my DNA.”
But there’s more to it.
It has long been known by scholars — and certainly by political strategists — that name recognition (known by some as “brand name advantage”) confers on politicians a “substantial electoral advantage,” as one study concluded. What’s more, research has shown that this perk can be transferred from parents to their children and other relatives. If you’re named George Bush just like your daddy was, or if you share the Kennedy surname with your better known uncles, aunts and cousins, you effectively inherit some of their political advantages.
The state scrapped traditional primaries to combat political polarization and legislative gridlock, but maybe it has to keep experimenting.
Why? Well the most charitable analysis is that it’s a “heuristic” for voters trying to decide among candidates. In the absence of information about the candidates’ program or policy plans, people look for shortcuts. Voters might choose based on party affiliation or on a candidate’s ethnic background. Or because they recognize a familiar surname: I liked JFK and RFK; I guess I’ll probably like their brother Teddy or their nephew Patrick as well.
(This has even worked well for people who share famous names by coincidence — an unrelated Al Gore, for example, won a Democratic primary running for U.S. Senate in Mississippi in 2010; he lost in the general election.)
The less charitable explanation for brand name advantage in politics is that people just blindly and lazily vote for names they recognize. That’s sad, but apparently true. It has to do with what’s known in social psychology as “mere exposure effect” or the “familiarity principle.” In other words, if I recognize your name, I’m more likely to vote for you even if I know nothing about you.
Familiarity apparently does not breed contempt.
On some subtle, subliminal level, the mall-developer-turned-candidate is selling the Grove’s faux urbanism.
An interesting wrinkle here is that Andrew Giuliani is trying to capitalize on a tarnished brand. His father, Rudy — Andrew’s only real connection to voters — is better known these days for his melting mascara, his press conference next to the sex shop, his Ukraine maneuverings, the FBI’s raid on his home and office, and his lies about the 2020 election than for his glory days as mayor of New York City.
But perhaps that’s just me. Maybe Republicans still love Rudy Giuliani for all the reasons I can’t abide him.
In the end, the question is whether New Yorkers want to put their former mayor’s callow, untested son into a very serious, very powerful job — a job that propelled four occupants (two Roosevelts among them) to the presidency.
Of course everyone has a right to run, including Andrew Giuliani. But not everyone has the right to be taken seriously.
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