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The name that Republicans dare not mention

October 10, 2007 |  4:50 pm

The official transcript from MSNBC of Tuesday's debate among the Republican presidential candidates does, indeed, make it official: The men vying to keep the White House in GOP hands appear loath to utter the current occupant's name.

The panel of questioners made direct mention of President Bush (or the "Bush administration") seven times. The forum focused on the economy, which Bush aggressively influenced through a series of tax cuts. And the debate included an extended discussion of the war in Iraq, the defining issue of his presidency.

Yet in their responses, Bush's name did not escape the lips of any of the candidates with even a ghost of a chance of capturing the Republican nomination. And this omission occurred over two hours--longer than the usual 90-minute face-offs.

In a particularly telling sign of the degree to which the president was treated as a nonentity, the first time a candidate invoked his surname, it referred to his father! Sam Brownback, in talking about trade policy, noted that he had worked on that subject during the 1989-93 presidency of George H.W. Bush.

Brownback went on to use the term "Bush administration"--meaning the one in office--twice when answering questions about Iraq. He praised it on military matters; criticized it over efforts to create a cohesive Iraqi government.

Tom Tancredo made a negative reference to "the Bush administration" while conversing about trade.

And Ron Paul broached the president's name sarcastically, saying, "Why don’t we run on George Bush’s foreign policy, of a humble foreign policy and no nation-building." Those were phrases the then-Texas governor frequently used to describe his views during the 2000 presidential campaign.

Paul's comment was the last time the word "Bush" was heard on the stage in Michigan. It causes one to wonder what sort of speaking slot the nominee-to-be will set aside for the actual president at next summer's Republican National Convention.

-- Don Frederick