Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate was, for the most part, a polite affair. Candidates frequently spoke of how much they agreed with their opponents. They acknowledged that, despite differences on issues as fundamental as abortion rights, they would back one another against any Democrat in November, 2OO8. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney took the wind out of his mild criticisms of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Arizona Senator John McCain when he kept referring to his fellow front runners as “my friend.”
But the candidates did not go entirely soft when it came to taking partisan potshots.
There was one Republican who suffered a trashing: George W. Bush.
When the candidates were asked how they would “use” the outgoing president in their administrations, the responses were breathtaking.
Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, an outspoken foe of the Bush administration’s immigration policies, told the story of a call he got from White House political czar Karl Rove during a dust-up on the issue several years ago. Tancredo said an angry Rove told him to “never darken the door of the White House.”
“I’ve been so disappointed in the president in so many ways,” said Trancredo, who complained about the administration’s immigration, education and prescription-drug policies before asserting that, “As president, I would have to tell George Bush exactly the same thing that Karl Rove told me”
That’s not a policy difference. That’s hate.
But even the Republicans who supposedly like Bush played the president’s failures for laughs.
What may have been the best line of the night came when first-term Bush Cabinet member Tommy Thompson referenced his former boss’s lack of diplomatic skills in his reply to the what-do-you-do-with-Bush question.
“I would certainly not send him to the United Nations,” said Thompson.
Speaking of the Bush administration, the former Secretary of Health and Human Services told the Republican-leaning crowd at the debate in the first primary state of New Hampshire: “We went to Washington to change Washington. Washington changed us.”
At least Thompson said “we.”
The other candidates were less generous.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Bush “bungled Katrina,” suggesting that not just the president but the Republican Party “lost credibility” when White House failed to respond quickly or effectively when a deadly hurricane struck New Orleans in 2005.