GOP wannabes keep distance from Bush

The Republican presidential candidates walked a delicate line in their latest campaign debate, seeking some distance from President Bush and an unpopular war in Iraq while offering assurances of change in a new Republican administration.

“I can tell you I’m not a carbon copy of George Bush,” former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said Sunday, even as he called for a “surge of support” for troops fighting in Iraq.

The Republican rivals, meeting at Drake University for an ABC News-sponsored debate, generally disagreed with Bush’s fundamental foreign policy goal of exporting democracy around the world and quibbled with the handling of the war even while backing it.

“All of us feel frustration, sometimes anger and sorrow,” Arizona Sen. John McCain said of the war. “It was badly mismanaged.”

They even found room for delicate criticism of the enormously powerful role that Vice President Dick Cheney has carved out for himself in the Bush White House.

“I would be very careful that everybody understood that there’s only one president,” said McCain.

“I think the president has over-relied” on Cheney, said Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback.

Some strategists argued that the movement is a natural reaction to the need to establish among voters an independent presence, while not riling the party’s sharply conservative political base.

“There is a combination of amnesia and denial and dodging beginning to take place as the war becomes more and more politically unpopular,” said Ed Rogers, a Republican strategist who is not aligned. “That has to be balanced with the Republican faithful being loyal to the president and respectful of authority. It’s delicate.”

The movement is likely to continue, while largely remaining respectful and polite, others argued.

“I think there is no advantage to a Republican candidate to personally attack George W. Bush,” said GOP strategist Tucker Eskew, a former high-ranking Bush aide. “There is a natural political advantage to someone trying to succeed this president to say how you would do some things differently.”

Marc Lampkin, who worked for Bush’s 2000 campaign, said the gradual shifting is understood.

“They need to create some differences between themselves and the administration,” said Lampkin. “We’re at a critical point in making sure the American people are seeing differences.”

“They wanted air between themselves and Washington,” said GOP strategist Frank Luntz. “Washington is a four-letter word in Republican primary politics.

At the same time, the rivals made it very clear there would be no fundamental shift in policy in Iraq should they win the White House.

“The reality is you do not achieve peace through weakness and appeasement,” said former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

One of the sharpest exchanges of the debate came over abortion and Brownback’s attack on Romney for not being strong enough in his opposition to it.

“It’s truthful,” Brownback said of an automated phone call his campaign made to highlight his rival’s one-time support for pro-choice policies. “I am pro-life. I think this is a core issue for our party.”

Romney called it “desperate, maybe negative,” adding moments later, “I get tired of people that are holier than thou because they’ve been pro-life longer than I have.”

The sharp exchange with Brownback led some to wonder if the well-financed Romney had allowed a lesser candidate to get under his skin.

“I’m a little bit surprised that Romney would let himself get into sort of an angry exchange with Brownback,” said Rogers. “If you have to find a mistake in the debate, that was it.”

The brightest moments of the debate may have taken place when the candidates turned their fire toward their Democratic counterparts. Potentially the most memorable line came when Romney attacked Democrat Barack Obama for first suggesting he would talk to hostile foreign leaders and then raising the potential of going into Pakistan to root out terrorists.

“He’s gone from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove in one week,” said Romney.

That assault cheered some strategists who said it could mark the beginning of a phase where GOP candidates go on the offensive.

“They took a specific question back to Democrats,” said Winston.

“As a party, in many ways, we have been back on our heels,” said Eskew. “The way you get off your heels is to get back on your toes and go.”

The debate likely did little to reshape a field where Giuliani, Romney and McCain are considered the top tier.

“None of the second tier did anything to move themselves,” said GOP strategist David Winston, who is not aligned. “Romney and Giuliani did what they had to do.”

The high-profile Iowa straw poll next week is likely to have more impact on winnowing the field.


Mike Glover has covered Iowa politics and the Iowa caucuses since 1982.


  1. Carl Nemo

    Take a good look a these duplicit “cubbies”…! I’m simply not enthused with Repubs, Dems; ie., anyone or any political entity at this point in our nations history!

    I feel like Diogenes running through the streets of Athens with a lantern in the “daytime”, simply looking for an honest man…!?

    I always laugh at the hipster bumper sticker that simply says…”Don’t vote it only encourages them”…! :))

    Carl Nemo **==

  2. Soldat

    Looks like just another CFR hit piece – no mention of Ron Paul, even though the ABC This Week poll shows him with almost 25,000 more votes than his closest competitor Mitt Romney.

    Ron Paul – 28,303

    Mitt Romney 3,732

    Rudy Giuliani 2,844

    “Those who tell the stories rule society.”
    — Plato

  3. Helen Rainier

    Do these fools really believe that simply by distancing themselves from Bush’s rhetoric that it will absolve them of their tacit approval and support for the Bush policies? If they are under this delusion, then they should blow it out of whatever nether orifice they choose.

    The past six years or so has seen my cynicism about politicians in general and Republicans in particular spiralling into outright hatred for all they “stand” for. I’m not that crazy about the Dems either but at this point, they seem to be the only alternative we have, and sadly, perhaps our only pipeline left to restoring our Bill of Rights and Constitution so it functions FOR the people, BY the people, and OF the people.

    The choice that the politicians need to make is whether they will choose loyalty to their party over loyalty to OUR country and to the Constitution of the United States of America. Sadly, most of them have clearly demonstrated where their true loyalties lie — and it’s not with loyalty to OUR country.

    I contend that makes them traitors and guilty of treasonous thinking and behavior. It is time for all of the GI Joe Girly Men in Congress (mostly Republiconutzis) to man up for possibly the FIRST time in their lives and show us that they have some balls to stand up for the principles of truth and justice that so many of us have grown up believing in — and the ones that all of us who have served this country in the military are still fighting for.

    We may go down in flames, but I’d rather go down fighting than acquiesing to these yellow-bellied, lilly-livered cowards and traitors. My father taught me how important it is to stand up for my beliefs and principles, and I will continue to do so.

  4. bryan mcclellan

    How many children did the Whores Of Babylon have anyway?The picture at the top is indisputable proof that the world needs a good affordable condom three pack.

  5. Helen Rainier


    It’s very simple: I raised my right hand and took the same oath you did and the words “protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies — foreign and domestic” and I proudly affirmed that oath several times.

    I believed it then. I still believe it. I will continue to fight for it until the day I die.

  6. CheckerboardStrangler

    One viewer asked the candidates to recount a terrible mistake they had made. Almost to a one the responses amounted to “I really can’t think of anything I ever did that I regretted”.

    Ron Paul appeared to have been the only candidate who answered honestly. He said he had failed to speak forcefully enough about the Constitution.

  7. SEAL

    I don’t know why any of these people even bother to pretend to be running for president. I don’t think any of them actually believe they have a chance in hell. Even under normal circumstances they are the sorriest lot ever. But given the current history and the rapidly deteriorating conditions in Iraq, Teddy Rosevelt couldn’t win as a republican in 2008.

    The media is finally being forced to reveal some of the facts of what is going on in Iraq. It is so bad it has become impossible not to recognize a little of it. More than a hundred people a day are dying from violence. Just today they found 60 decomposing bodies behind a claimed al Qaeda hideout. Over a 100 new deaths were recorded. Part of that was a dump truck full of explosives was set off in front of an area where lots of children were playing – at least 19 kids were killed. But stop and think about what it means that sunni insurgents have so much expolsive that they can fill a damn dump truck with it just to blow up a neighborhood. No important target, just a neighborhood of shiites – any shiites – little children playing hop-scotch and marbles.

    The blast was so massive it flattened houses all around on families eating dinner. Meals cooked over open fires because their is no electric for 4 years now. No drinkable water and sewage seeping up through the ground in neighborhoods. All these people have done for 4 years is kill each other and sabatoge any ability to produce the one wealth they have to make their life bearable. All we have accomplished is to remove the regieme that kept the civil war under enough control to effect a minimal quality of life.

    No matter how much the Bushco propoganda machine rants on about Iran supporting shiite militias to kill american soldiers and the sunni insurgents targeting american soldiers and al Qaeda attacking american soldiers, the statistics show that to be a lie. Very few US soldiers are being killed or wounded and only by random roadside bombs when they happen to be the ones who drove by it at the wrong time or when we go out to attack and get into a firefight. If we stayed off they streets, none of our guys would be hurt and the Iraqi deaths would simply continue.

    This is nothing but a civil war and no one is going to be able to stop it. It has been going on ever since the country was created by idiots who thought they could force these people to live together. It was a civil war when Saddam was in power – the sunnis were winning. The shiites are more or less in power now and, if we get out of the way, they will be winning in the same manner the sunnis were under Saddam.

    Just as I predicted from the outset, the new government is finally falling apart. All the sunnis have walked out of it the past few days because the shiites will not give them anything resembling “fair.” Hell no they won’t. They are going to get even. Big surprise. The most monumental stupid is that Bushco actually thought they were going to invade, set up a puppet government, and get the Iraqi oil. That would take at least a million US troops and a Joseph Stalin type regime. Maybe two million.

    History will show this to be the worst blunder in military planning, ever, and the beginning of the downfall of the american nation. That will be the G. W. Bush legacy. Along with the destruction of the republican party as a footnote.

  8. Sonorous Pest

    I can’t wait for the Three Stooges to return to film making. What will be the title of their new movie?