Rudy Giuliani stepped out of his apartment on Sunday night and, like he does most Sundays, walked into Nicola’s Restaurant on the Upper East Side.
“That place is [usually] packed on a Sunday night — packed, packed, packed,” he said. “When I walked in, I was the first one there — I got the best table in the house.” He had dinner, some drinks. “By the time I left there was no more than 10 people.”
Giuliani gets the freakout over the coronavirus pandemic, but he doesn’t really get it. He wants people to wash their hands and drink lots of water and cough into their elbows, but these empty flights? Eating dinner at home? Canceling playdates? What is this, a war?
“When I walked down my city yesterday and I saw her empty, I said, this is out of a movie. Like Mars has invaded, or — it reminded me of the man in the closet, that HBO thing.” (He probably meant Man in the High Castle, that Amazon thing.) “I mean, I was looking for the Nazis coming down the street. I mean, it's a little too much.”
In fact, the city he was once mayor of has been far from empty, and many, like Giuliani, went out to dinner and bars and cafés over the weekend despite the urging of public health professionals. That is set to change on Tuesday, after Bill de Blasio, the current mayor, ordered all restaurants to switch to delivery or takeout only as New York implements a series of measures to try to keep people at home.
Giuliani doesn’t know what he’s going to do. “One of my good friends pointed out to me I could starve to death because I don't know how to cook,” he said. “Could you put out an advertisement for a cook — for a nice man, eats reasonably, not picky?” Surely he could make...something. “I've been trying to learn — I'm a couple of days behind. Some guy was gonna show me how to make pasta. I could probably do it by instinct.”
At 75, Giuliani is in the range of people for which the coronavirus could be very serious if caught. But, reached by phone on Monday, he said he was feeling fine and was in an unusually chipper mood.
The president’s personal lawyer has faded from the headlines (and, mainly, into a podcast studio) after months of shouting — on Fox, into the ear of any journalist who would listen — about his conspiracy theory connecting Joe Biden to corruption in Ukraine, an elaborate plot against the president’s presumptive rival for the election in November that prompted an impeachment trial that engulfed Washington and now feels several light-years away.
But now is the time of the coronavirus, and everything is upside down. We live in a world where Sen. Ted Cruz, a staunch Republican, is praising Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for giving “good advice” on how to behave in these uncertain times. Gavin Newsom, the Democratic governor of California, is praising Trump for some of his handling of the crisis, and is in turn getting praised by right-wing personalities like Tomi Lahren. Those who were once enemies, are now — at least temporarily — partners. What is a yeller like Giuliani to do?
Jump on the bipartisan train of kindness. In the course of our 20-minute conversation, Giuliani offered — with no prompting — defenses of Biden, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer.
He didn’t get why people were teasing Biden for coughing into his hand during the Democratic debate on Sunday night (coughing into your elbow is not “the way we were taught” and “I probably would’ve done the same thing”). For some reason he brought up Obama, and said he was once unjustly criticized for underestimating the deaths in a war zone (the military was to blame because they were “sucking his you-know-what”). Pelosi and Schumer, he said, “got a little political, but they backed off it right away.”
He didn’t even have harsh words for de Blasio, who drew the ire of the city and much of the internet after he was caught distinctly not socially distancing himself by attending his favorite gym on Monday morning. “Look, you know I'm a reflexive critic of de Blasio,” Giuliani said. “I empathize with the position the mayor is in, and the governor and the president. After all, these people did not invent this virus.”
What the actual hell is going on?
Lest you think the whole world truly has gone topsy-turvy, rest assured that Giuliani borders on coronavirus truther, questioning whether it really is that different from the flu. He worries that canceling playdates will turn children into “a bunch of social invalids” and compares the harsh measures being implemented by federal and local governments to if he had decided to crack down on crime by “locking everybody up.”
He thinks that, come November, when the president is up for reelection, everyone will have forgotten about the coronavirus, as if the economic fallout is not something the country, and the world, will be grappling to recover from for a still-unknown period of time, even if the pandemic subsides by then (which is no certainty).
“I don't think it'll be tough for his reelection because I think it's going to be over with by June or July, by nature of science,” he said, relying on theories that COVID-19 could be seasonal, which remains unknown. “By mid-July, given the human memory, you're not gonna remember it. The only people remembered West Nile in the off-season was me and my Department of Health.”
“The minute that people don't have the illness, they go back to watching the basketball games,” he said. “And by the time we get to September and October, the Yankees are five games ahead. I'm not gonna be thinking about the coronavirus.”
Giuliani, who toyed with the idea of extending his term and delaying New York City’s mayoral election in the wake of Sept. 11, said it was too soon for Trump to consider something similar. “Oh, no, no. It's way too early on the general election, way too early…. By July, this is going to look very different than right now.”
Giuliani said he had talked to Trump in recent days, and that the president didn’t sound more stressed than usual. “I have to tell you about Donald J. Trump — he is never overwhelmed.”
Giuliani said Trump asked for what he learned from dealing with the West Nile Virus outbreak in New York, and the anthrax attacks in the wake of 9/11. “I told him my first bit of advice on emergency management, which I learned from reading Winston Churchill,” Giuliani said. “Tell people all the facts, tell them the unvarnished truth, even scare them if you have to, but never leave them that way, always find a way to give them hope in the end.”
In his press briefing Sunday night, Trump tried to do something like that, coming out to tell reporters that Americans shouldn’t worry about running out of groceries, and then skipping out to “make some calls.” On Monday, he stayed longer, and told Americans to avoid being in groups of more than 10 people, while admitting, in response to a question, that the virus was not under control.