President Bush took a bruising last night from the Republicans running for their party’s 2008 presidential nomination, with the 10 candidates accusing him of losing his principles and failing the country on spending and immigration.
“The president ran as a conservative and governed as a liberal,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, while Rep. Duncan Hunter accused Mr. Bush of deliberately delaying building a border fence.
“I think they slowed the fence down so that they could come out with the amnesty at the same time, put the two together, and the Bush-McCain-Kennedy bill would then be accepted by conservatives and liberals alike,” the California Republican said in a two-hour debate in New Hampshire, aired on CNN.
Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas all said Mr. Bush’s biggest mistake in recent years was overspending and growing government.
“Republicans became Democrats,” Mr. Giuliani said.
Several candidates also blasted Mr. Bush for the way his administration handled the war in Iraq once dictator Saddam Hussein was ousted.
It was the harshest the candidates have been as a group toward Mr. Bush so far in this campaign and the criticism comes as the president is feuding with conservatives, whom he accused last week of trying to “frighten people” over immigration.
Immigration was the deepest dividing line among the candidates last night, with Mr. McCain and Mr. Brownback alone defending the bill now pending in the Senate that would offer a path to citizenship to the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens in the country.
Mr. Giuliani called the bill “a typical Washington mess,” while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said it was “simply not fair” to give illegal aliens a special path to citizenship.
“The point is, every illegal alien, almost every one, under this bill gets to stay here,” he said.
Mr. McCain defended the plan as better than the status quo, and said his main goal was to work with Democrats to find a bill that can pass.
“If someone else has a better idea, I’d love to have them give it to us,” Mr. McCain said, at which point several hands shot up among his fellow candidates.
When Mr. Giuliani described his own principles for a bill, including an I.D. card for future workers and legalization for illegal aliens, Mr. McCain shot back, “Rudy, you just described our legislation.”
The debate was scattershot, covering a broad range of issues but failing to expose many differences between the candidates.
Among the points of agreement were: