Washington (CNN)Rudy Giuliani is stepping back from his comments questioning President Barack Obama's patriotism -- finally, after sticking by those remarks repeatedly in recent days, and watching Republican 2016 presidential contenders distance themselves from him.
Rudy Giuliani backs off attack on Obama's patriotism
The former New York City mayor took to The Wall Street Journal opinion pages Sunday night seeking to move beyond the firestorm over his comments, saying his problem is really with Obama's policies.
"My blunt language suggesting that the President doesn't love America notwithstanding, I didn't intend to question President Obama's motives or the content of his heart," Giuliani wrote. "My intended focus really was the effect his words and his actions have on the morale of the country, and how that effect may damage his performance."
He went on to critique Obama's language, saying the President should tout the exceptionalism of America more and make the country's differences with nations that have fostered terrorism more clear. He said Obama should criticize the United States' history less often.
But Giuliani emphasized that he "cannot read President Obama's mind or heart."
The failed Republican 2008 presidential hopeful's retraction came after several days of top GOP names distanced themselves from him, saying it's appropriate to criticize Obama's policies but not to question his patriotism.
It also turned into a bit of a trap for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a leading Republican presidential contender who was on stage with Giuliani when he made his comment.
Walker has since ducked questions about whether he believes Obama loves America, as well as a question from The Washington Post about whether he believes Obama is a Christian, saying he hasn't spoken to the President about those things so he can't know.
Other Republicans, meanwhile, continued to criticize Giuliani on Sunday.
"I don't think it helps to question the President's patriotism or motives," Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said on "Fox News Sunday." Pence added that Giuliani is "understandably frustrated with a President who as I said before is fully willing to lecture the people of this country about the crusades, but is unwilling to call Islamic extremism for what it is."
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said on Hugh Hewitt's radio show, "I can't get into his head, or for that matter into his soul about what he thinks about the country, but again I think the President in his mind loves this country, but his policies and what his policies are doing to this country is my concern."
Other Republicans -- including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul -- have made similar comments in recent days.
While Rubio said he doesn't question Obama's motives, he also critiqued journalists for pushing the issue -- saying that Democrats aren't forced to answer for it "every time Joe Biden says something embarrassing."