Bush's Debate Experiences

Mauro tried to make an issue of Bush’s silver-spoon upbringing, and also brought up the fact Bush would not rule out running for the presidency. To that question, Bush replied that he was still undecided on running and that “if it bothers you when you go into the voting booth, then make that part of your consideration … I don’t think there would be all this speculation going on if the people didn’t think I was doing a good job as governor.” His performance was adequate, but not totally solid.

2000 Campaign for Republican Nomination

Bush appeared in 10 out of 13 total Republican primary debates.

After generating a slew of bad press for failing to show up for two previous New Hampshire debates and one Arizona forum, Bush made his GOP primary debate debut on Dec. 2, 1999 in Manchester, N.H. Although jabbed at by publisher Steve Forbes for his earlier absences and his refusal to rule out raising the retirement age for Social Security, Bush deflected Forbes’ assertions, and went out of his way to make nice with his top primary rival, Sen. John McCain. Bush’s tentative performance unnerved some supporters.

With McCain surging in the polls, Bush was more willing to mix it up with his chief opponent in the debate held on Dec. 13 in Des Moines. In addition to sparring with McCain over the virtues of campaign finance reform and their contrasting tax plans, Bush made waves when he answered a question on the philosopher or thinker who had affected him most: “Christ. Because he changed my heart.”

Battling a cold, Bush turned in one of his weakest performances in the Jan. 26, 2000 New Hampshire primary debate. He tried to strike a moderate tone on abortion while at the same time reaffirming his anti-abortion stance and defending the no-exceptions language in the GOP platform: “We must welcome people from different persuasions into our party, or different points of view into our party.” In the candidate Q&A portion of the debate, Bush used his question to Keyes to ask, “What’s it like to be in a mosh pit?”

On the other hand, Bush did well in his Larry King-moderated appearance with Alan Keyes and McCain on Feb. 15, before the South Carolina primary, appearing knowledgeable on subjects ranging from China to Russia to the budget surplus. At one point, after McCain reiterated his pledge to run a positive campaign, Bush pulled out a McCain flier distorting some of his positions, which had reportedly been left on South Carolinians’ car windshields.

Bush appeared calm and confident in his 10th and final debate appearance in Los Angeles (with McCain appearing via satellite and Bush and Keyes in Los Angeles). One tense moment came when Bush criticized McCain for charging that he is anti-Catholic, telling McCain he didn’t “appreciate it one bit.” McCain denied the charge, saying he had merely served up “straight talk” about Bush’s visit to Bob Jones University. The debate was also notable for Bush’s seeming laugh or smirk when asked about Calvin Jerold Burdine, who was released from jail in Texas after spending 16 years behind bars because his lawyer slept through the trial.

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