Ain’t Augustine

Rudy Giuliani compared Donald Trump to a saint. Then things got silly.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani addresses delegates at July’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

On Sunday, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani went on five political talk shows to answer questions about Donald Trump. The questions concerned a 2005 videotape, released Friday, that showed Trump boasting in crude language—on a microphone he didn’t know was live—about using his financial and celebrity power to make unwanted, physically aggressive sexual advances toward women. Most people don’t have the stomach to defend a sexual predator. Indeed, the Trump campaign canceled the networks’ scheduled interviews with its other surrogates. But Giuliani, who presents himself as a prosecutor with no tolerance for lawbreaking, filled in admirably as a defense attorney. In fact, he spun the tape as a reason to vote for, not against, his boss. Here’s what the former mayor said.

1. That’s not the real Trump. Giuliani insisted that Trump had always been a “gentleman” and had never spoken such vulgarities in his presence. On Meet the Press, Giuliani claimed that on Friday, when Trump was “confronted” with the evidence, “he was pretty darn shocked that he had said such terrible things.” The real Trump, the gentleman, had no acquaintance with the cad in the video.

At one point, Giuliani suggested that Trump “didn’t remember” having said what was on the tape. Which means that if a witness had described what Trump said in the 2005 conversation, absent the tape, Trump would have denied it and gotten away with it.

The Sunday morning moderators threw more evidence at Giuliani. Chuck Todd played a tape of Trump bragging, in a 2008 episode of Howard Stern’s radio show, about going backstage at a beauty pageant and ogling naked women “because I’m the owner of the pageant.” Giuliani shrugged off the quote as a fiction. “On that show, a lot of things are said that aren’t true, he told Todd. “You just say them because they’re funny.”

Todd cited the case of Temple Taggart, a beauty contestant who accused Trump of kissing her on the lips without invitation. Giuliani insisted that Trump’s statements on the tape didn’t validate such stories: “I don’t know how much he was exaggerating,” said Giuliani. Chris Wallace cited the “long history of Trump making aggressive moves on women. He’s been sued for sexual harassment, and there are decades of insults of women.” Again, Giuliani shrugged it off. “I know Donald Trump for almost 30 years,” he said. “Doesn’t reflect the man that I know.”

So the public Trump, when he’s well-behaved, is the real one. The private, filthy Trump, even when he’s caught on tape, is the fake one. But in Hillary Clinton’s case, it’s just the opposite. Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street executives, disclosed in a WikiLeaks dump on Friday, show she’s “one person in private and another person in public,” Giuliani told John Dickerson. To Wallace, he added: “We have two Hillary Clintons—which says we have a person who’s a liar.”

2. We’re all sinners. On several shows, Giuliani whipped out Catholic theology. He pleaded that all of us sin and that Trump has repented. Giuliani swore that Trump was “contrite” about his 2005 remarks, even though Trump, in a video statement, displayed no such contrition. Therefore, Giuliani concluded, Trump should be forgiven. He added that Trump shouldn’t be singled out for the things he said on the tape, because “this is unfortunately the kind of talk that goes on among a lot of people.” Everybody does it.

But the former mayor didn’t stop there. He claimed that Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, her attempts to cover up and excuse it, her speeches to Wall Street executives, and her family foundation’s acceptance of money from people with business before the State Department were “equal or worse than” than anything in the tapes. Giuliani also tried to shame as a hypocrite anyone who might criticize Trump. “He who hasn’t sinned should cast the first stone,” said Giuliani. When he was asked about Republican officeholders who had denounced Trump after seeing the tape, Giuliani scoffed: “Maybe a lot of them are perfect people.” On Face the Nation, he played the God card, suggesting that only Jesus Christ was innocent enough to criticize Trump.

3. Running for president has made Trump a better man. Giuliani, like Trump, argued that Clinton’s years in politics have corrupted her. But he claimed that running for office has done just the opposite for Trump: It has cleansed him. In the 2005 tape, Trump was just an “entertainment star,” said Giuliani. “He wasn’t thinking of office.” As a non-politician, he wasn’t thinking or speaking seriously.

That’s a complete inversion of what Trump has told us. For the past year and a half, Trump has claimed that politicians lie and that only a nonpolitician can tell the truth. But Giuliani, as he pulled this 180, didn’t even blink. He described politics as a religious experience, preaching that Trump

has gone through something that is transformational in a person’s life: a presidential campaign. He’s gone through 14 months of being out there, hearing what people are worried about and afraid of losing their jobs, having lost their jobs. … These things weigh on you as a person. I went through it. And they make you a lot more serious, and they literally make you into a different kind of person. I think Sept. 11 and running for president made me into a different person.

Giuliani’s argument, in short, is that we’ve been looking at this tape the wrong way. We’ve been asking why we should elect as president a man who said he did vile things to women. We have it backward. When you’re presented with a man who says he did vile things to women, the appropriate thing to do is precisely to elect him president, because the mere act of running for president has purged his vileness.

Giuliani didn’t just compare Trump’s campaign with 9/11. On Face the Nation, he likened Trump to St. Augustine, the famous Christian theologian who abandoned the hedonism of his early life. “Sometimes going through things like this makes you a much better person,” said Giuliani. From the context, Giuliani appeared to be saying that Trump had been purified not just by running for president, but by having sinned in the first place. You should trust him more, not less, because he has “gone through” a life of iniquity and predation captured, at age 59, in this videotape.

The Sunday show moderators had some trouble with this purification story. “For a lot of people, when they saw the tape, it confirmed other things they had been seeing in the campaign,” noted George Stephanopoulos. For instance, “after the last debate, the way he talked about Alicia Machado. [And] the way he talked about Megyn Kelly in that first debate, going back a year ago.” But Giuliani brushed those cases aside. “That was the kind of language that goes on in campaigns,” shrugged the former mayor. Campaigns make the candidate a serious person—but don’t take seriously what the candidate says.

4. He has to stay in the race, not for himself, but for the people. In every interview, Giuliani boasted that Trump had earned more votes in Republican primaries than any previous nominee. Giuliani used this statistic to make three points. Morally, he argued, Trump’s voters would forgive him, so Republican politicians should do the same. Politically, the former mayor added, Trump’s voters would stand by him, so Republican politicians had better not mess with them. And above all, the support of all these voters meant that if Trump were to quit the race, he would be letting them down. “He owes them the duty to run,” Giuliani insisted. Trump’s refusal to relinquish the nomination, in the face of widespread outrage, isn’t selfish. It’s heroic.

5. Stick together. Giuliani said Clinton had committed 35 crimes. He claimed that the FBI and the Department of Justice, as a political favor, had let her get away these crimes. He said that Bill Clinton had raped women and that Hillary Clinton had “attacked” them. Nevertheless, Giuliani concluded, “The Democrats all stick together, and they’re all sticking with a candidate who looks like she violated a whole bunch of federal laws.” This is no time for scruples, the former mayor implied. Republicans should stand with their nominee and match the ruthlessness of the other side. Man up, and circle the wagons

So there you have it. The guy in the video isn’t Trump. Like St. Augustine, Trump is a profoundly changed man, cleansed by politics. No one but Jesus can criticize him. He’ll never relinquish the nomination, because he represents the people, not himself. And any Republican who says otherwise is, let us say, something Donald Trump might grab. So speaketh the prophet of Donald. Tonight we’ll hear from the deity himself.

Read more Slate coverage of the 2016 campaign.