Republican candidates invoke Reagan, evade Bush

Republican White House hopefuls Thursday night frequently invoked the name of former President Ronald Reagan during the first GOP presidential debate but avoided mentioning the current president by name.

Until the final question, which specifically asked the ten candidates how they would be different from President Bush, the name of the commander in chief was uttered only once by a candidate, according to a transcript of the event. In fact, they mentioned Bush’s brother Jeb and his father George H. W. Bush as many times as the current chief executive.

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While avoiding Bush, candidates embraced Reagan during the debate, which was held at the 40th president’s library in California, and they mentioned his name 19 times in their answers.

All top tier candidates, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, invoked Reagan at one point or another.

“What we can borrow from Ronald Reagan, since we are in his library, is that great sense of optimism that he had,” said Giuliani. “He led by building on the strengths of America, not running America down.”

Romney praised Reagan as a “president of strength,” adding that “his philosophy was a philosophy of strength: a strong military, a strong economy and strong families.”

McCain cited the need for a line-item veto that Reagan had also sought.

“Ronald Reagan used to say, we spend money like a drunken sailor,” McCain said. “I never knew a sailor, drunk or sober, with the imagination of the Congress.”

Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.), former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Virginia Governor James Gilmore and Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.) also invoked Reagan’s name in their answers.

The Republican debate followed the script of the one that saw Democratic presidential hopefuls refrain from taking shots at each other.