John McCain and Rudy Giuliani have had a cozy little truce for much of the presidential race. On background, the candidates and their aides tell supporters and the press why the other man can't get elected. In public, though, they've been sweet to each other. Giuliani even said McCain would be the man he'd vote for if he weren't running.
The era of good feeling was bound to disappear, since McCain's aides will tell you that much of his support drifted over to Rudy once the mayor got into the race. And now it's getting very personal very fast.
For the last week McCain and Giuliani have been engaged in a quasi-policy dispute over waterboarding. Giuliani suggested that he was sympathetic to the complexity of whether the tactic is torture, as a former prosecutor who sometimes had to use harsh interrogation techniques. McCain responded that such a careless comment about torture suggested Giuliani wasn't ready to lead the country.
That was the warm up. On Friday, with the indictment of Giuliani associate Bernie Kerik, McCain and supporter Tom Ridge, the former director of homeland security, started off the real offensive by suggesting that Giuliani's support for Kerik, his one-time driver whom he later made the city's police commissioner and then backed for Ridge's former job, meant he lacked judgment.
The attacks and counterattacks continued from there, in a string of charges and accusations that seemed to pop up every-other time I refreshed my email inbox:
McCain's campaign manger, Rick Davis, amplified his boss' attack: "After being briefed on Kerik's ties to organized crime, Giuliani named him chief of the New York Police Department. Without any further vetting, Giuliani asked him to join his security consulting firm. Despite obvious ethical problems, Giuliani went so far as to personally recommend Kerik for the top job at the Department of Homeland Security. A president's judgment matters and Rudy Giuliani has repeatedly placed personal loyalty over regard for the facts."
Then came this statement from Giuliani's former deputy mayor, Randy Mastro referring to McCain's famous ethical run-in:
"It's no fairer to judge Rudy Giuliani on the basis of this one issue than it would be to judge John McCain on the basis of the Keating 5 scandal."
Ouch. Then this from a McCain aide in an email to me:
"Randy Mastro might not be the best spokesman for Giuliani on this, given the fact that he represented Interstate Industrial -- the mobbed-up company at the center of Bernie Kerik's indictment today."
Which arrived shortly before this public statement from Giuliani's communication's director, Katie Levinson:
"Is this what desperation looks like? Bernie Kerik's issues have been known since 2004 and John McCain still had glowing things to say about Rudy Giuliani and his leadership. What, exactly, changed today? Best as I can tell, it's just John McCain's pure desperation in the face of a failing and flailing campaign trumping his so-called straight talk."
This put the ball in the McCain court and Jill Hazelbaker his communications director responded: "The only person who broke the law is Rudy's good buddy Bernie Kerik," she said. "And the only person who showed questionable judgment was the man pushed him to be Secretary of D.H.S., Rudy Giuliani."
Friday ended and so did the exchange of fire. Will that be the end of the fracas? The Giuliani campaign does not want to talk about Kerik any more than they have to which left the McCain campaign wondering whether to continue the pressure or call a momentary truce.