Sleeping With the Enemy

Does George W. Bush believe in guilt by association or doesn’t he?

According to a Feb. 11 AP story, Bush’s campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh, told participants in a campaign conference call that Bush this week plans to argue that McCain is tainted by his ties to the Democrats. Specifically, Bush will draw attention to McCain’s alliance with Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold on campaign-finance reform; to McCain’s support from Democratic-leaning unions in Michigan; and to some nice things Al Gore has said about him. On NBC’s Meet the Press Feb. 13, Bush complained that in South Carolina, Democrats are planning to

flock into the Republican primary to decide who the Republican nominee is and then head back for the Democrats in the general election. And I’ll give you one example. In South Carolina, the husband of Al Gore’s chairman, in South Carolina, is supporting John, which is fine, except he’s made it pretty well known he’s going to be for Al Gore in the general election. What bothers me is that Democrats come in and nominate the easier candidate to beat in the fall. I suspect these Democrats–the definition of a Reagan Democrat is someone who came in based upon philosophy. They made a philosophical choice, and they stayed with President Reagan throughout the general election. So what I’m worried about is Democrats deciding who the Republican nominee is going to be.

It’s perfectly legitimate for the Bush campaign to argue that the (undeniably large) quantity of Democrat love bombarding McCain calls into question McCain’s Republican-stalwart credentials. Ronald Reagan, the last big crossover presidential candidate, appealed to Democrats, too, but only conservative ones; by contrast, McCain–despite a conservative Senate voting record–appeals both to conservative Democrats and to many liberals. This is partly because of McCain’s attractive personal qualities, but also partly because of McCain’s Republican apostasy on some issues–most notably campaign-finance reform and tobacco regulation.

It’s also legitimate for Bush to try to warn Republican voters that many Democrats likely have a partisan reason for promoting McCain’s candidacy right now. (Though Bush misstates what that reason is: It isn’t because McCain is “the easier candidate to beat in the fall,” but rather because Democrats want to bloody the still-likely Republican nominee–Bush–as much as possible.) Although there is no shame in Democrats’ crossing over to the Republican primary to vote for John McCain for whatever strategic purpose, there is also no shame in Bush’s alerting Republican voters that their strategic interest would best be served by shoring up Bush’s candidacy. To be sure, this argument is self-serving; but it’s no crime for a presidential candidate to be self-serving. And if Bush does end up the nominee, his argument will have been correct.

What isn’t legitimate is for Bush to suggest that McCain is guilty by association with Democrats and then to turn around and claim that he, Bush, is not guilty by his association with Bob Jones University. On Meet the Press, Tim Russert asked Bush about his now-famous appearance at BJU, which forbids dating between members of different races. (Russert also pointed out that Bob Jones III, the current president, once called his father “a devil,” and that the school’s former chancellor once said, “The papacy is the religion of the Antichrist.”) Here is how Bush answered:

Bush: Do not subscribe–I mean, you know, you cannot subscribe those views to me because I went to a university to speak to try to convince 6,000 people to be on my team. Ronald Reagan went there and spoke. Do you think the Catholics in Michigan rejected Ronald Reagan when he asked for their vote for the presidency? Of course not. They listened to what Reagan had to say, and they looked at Ronald Reagan’s heart. And I do not agree with this notion that somehow if I go to try to attract votes and to lead people toward a better tomorrow, somehow I get subscribed to some–some doctrine gets subscribed to me. I don’t accept that, and neither should you. And it’s unfair.Russert: But people who know you and respect you and like you say, “George W. Bush, Thomas Burch [a McCain-bashing veterans activist with whom Bush has campaigned],and Bob Jones III aren’t your kind of people. Why are you associating with them?”Bush: Well, first of all, Burch shows up because he represents a veterans group and he said, “I want to support your candidacy.” You know, I’ve got thousands of supporters who support me for one reason or another. I went to Bob Jones University because I wanted to convince people that my brand of conservatism is the right brand of conservatism for the Republican Party and is the right brand of conservatism for the country. That’s why I went. That’s what a leader does. A leader doesn’t shirk. A leader leads. A leader stands up and sets an agenda. And that’s what I’m going to do.

Why is it that when McCain lies down with the dogs he gets fleas, but when Bush lies down with the dogs he doesn’t? Because Bush says so.

Postscript: To see how Alan Keyes, who is both black and Catholic, spun his visit today to Bob Jones, click hereand scroll down.