- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

President Bush, while determined to remain above the political fray, approved yesterday’s Republican television ad as a way to counter months of Democratic attacks, a White House official said.

“How much can you let go unanswered?” the official said. “The president is going to keep on his schedule, but it’s incumbent upon somebody to defend the president — and that’s what the party does.”

The ad, which the Republican National Committee (RNC) began airing in Iowa yesterday, says Democrats “are now attacking the president for attacking the terrorists.”

Although it came after months of Democratic ads criticizing Mr. Bush’s prosecution of the war on terrorism, leading Democrats cried foul.

“To question the patriotism of those who are in opposition to some of the president’s plans, I think is wrong,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday

“Who questioned anybody’s patriotism?” asked the White House official. “It’s important and necessary for Republicans to remind the American people what is really going on, what the president is doing, leadership-wise.”

RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie agreed.

“What I’m baffled by is this notion that there’s a challenge to anyone’s patriotism, which is what the Democrats say,” Mr. Gillespie said on MSNBC yesterday. “They use that to hide behind the fact that they don’t want to talk about the policy discussion that this ad places squarely on the table.”

The ad addresses the policy discussion by flashing the message: “Some call for us to retreat, putting our national security in the hands of others.” Mr. Gillespie said the RNC was referring to numerous Democrats, including front-runner Howard Dean.

“He has said in the course of his debates that we should withdraw our troops from Iraq. I believe that is retreat,” he said. “If we pull our troops out of Iraq now and don’t finish our mission, I believe that constitutes retreat.”

Although the RNC began running the ad more than 11 months before the presidential election, that is late by the standards of the Democratic National Committee, which began running re-election ads for President Clinton 18 months before the 1996 election.

Yesterday’s ad angered the Democratic presidential contenders, including Wesley Clark.

“It’s an outrage,” the retired Army general said in yesterday’s Democratic presidential debate in Iowa. “I’m not attacking the president because he’s attacking terrorists. I’m attacking him because he isn’t attacking terrorists.”

Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, added: “The RNC and Bush are running an ad in Iowa basically criticizing anybody who disagrees with their approach.”

Also during the debate, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, reprised his oft-repeated denunciation of Mr. Bush as “a miserable failure.” Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said the president “built a fraudulent coalition” against Iraq. And Mr. Clark called Mr. Bush’s foreign policy “reckless” and “irresponsible.”

Such attacks have been sustained for months, prompting the president to permit the RNC to run yesterday’s ad against the Democrats. Because the counterattack was launched by the GOP and not the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, Mr. Bush can remain somewhat detached from the tit-for-tat of the presidential race.

“The campaign season will come in due course, and when it does, President Bush and I will run hard and take nothing for granted,” Vice President Dick Cheney said at a Republican fund-raiser in Kentucky yesterday. “We understand that the key to victory is to do the work we’ve been given, and to do it well.”


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