Reagan ‘Mortified’ That Bush Endorsement Seen as Lukewarm, Aide Says
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Reagan ″is mortified″ that his Wednesday night endorsement of George Bush’s presidential candidacy may have been seen by some as merely lukewarm, Reagan’s spokesman said today.
″He feels it was a very strong endorsement, very appropriate, sets the stage for him to talk about the vice president throughout the campaign,″ said Marlin Fitzwater.
Reagan gave Bush a terse statement of support Wednesday night, mispronouncing the name of his vice president at one point. But Bush aides quickly expressed enthusiasm for the endorsement.
At the White House today, Fitzwater said any reports that the endorsement was merely lukewarm were ″most unfortunate.″ He said of Reagan, ″He is mortified. He thought the speech was terrific. He wrote it himself. He thought it was strong, a full endorsement of his vice president who he thinks incredibly highly of.″
Reagan delivered the long-awaited endorsement of his 1980 and 1984 running mate at a Republican fund-raising dinner Wednesday night, telling his audience he would ″campaign as hard as I can″ for Bush.
The president, bestowing his approval on Bush’s campaign more than two weeks after the vice president mathematically clinched the GOP nomination in the Pennsylvania primary, came in a brief three sentences at the conclusion of a 15-minute speech.
While Reagan’s backing was never in doubt, the president had stuck to a promise to remain netural as long as there were other challengers. Bush’s remaining rival, Pat Robertson, announced earlier Wednesday that he would support Bush.
During his speech, Reagan mentioned Bush only three times, mispronouncing his name on one of those occasions as ″George Bosh.″
But Bush aides immediately stressed that they were pleased with Reagan’s announcement, no matter how brief.
″It’s a total endorsement,″ said Bush’s chief of staff Craig Fuller. ″I would not look for what wasn’t said. I would look for what was said. I’m fully satisfied. I don’t think it gets any better.″
Bush’s press secretary, Stephen Hart, said ″it looks like an endorsement to me.″
″These guys love each other,″ he added.
Speaking at a $1,500-a-plate banquet attended by more than 3,000 Republicans, Reagan concluded a speech about the accomplishments of his administration with these words:
″I intend to campaign as hard as I can. My candidate is a former member of Congress, ambassador to China, ambassador to the United Nations, Director of the CIA and national chairman of the Republican party. I’m going to work as hard as I can to make Vice President George Bush the next president of the United States.″
In endorsing Bush, Reagan said he was breaking ″a silence I’ve maintained for some time with regard to the presidential candidates.″
Earlier in the speech, Reagan said: ″Eight years ago, George Bush and I said to the American people, ‘the time is now.’ It still is. The story of America is one of people who have made their dreams come true, by realizing that the time for action is always now.″
It was in that reference that Reagan mispronounced the name of his vice president.
Bush was traveling to New Mexico and California today for a seven-day campaign trip to the West.
Reagan’s formal endorsement follows several weeks of jockeying among White House and Bush campaign aides over a time and place for the announcement.
At the end of Reagan’s speech, Bush and his wife Barbara worked their way through the crowd on the floor to join the president and First Lady Nancy Reagan at the podium. Reagan and Bush held clasped hands aloft as hundreds of balloons were released from the ceiling.
Bush, who spoke before Reagan, praised the president, saying: ″You began a great national renewal.″
Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole, whose own presidential bid was stopped in Bush’s march to the GOP nomination, displayed his sometimes barbed wit.
″Thank you, thank you very much,″ he said when he was applauded. ″I was going to say, I would accept the nomination, but I think it’s already been spoken for.″
″I can’t remember the guy who got it,″ said Dole.
Robertson announced his suport for Bush after a private session between the two at the White House, claiming ″the race is pretty much over.″
The former television minister has won only 46 delegates. He said he would wait until Monday before formally withdrawing to give his supporters a chance to win additional national convention seats at GOP caucuses this weekend in Arizona and Virginia.
″I didn’t ask anything for myself. I spoke about education and the need to bring the 1984 platform into line with the realities of 1988,″ Robertson said. ″We definitely had a meeting of the minds on the platform.″
Robertson’s campaign later said in a statement that Robertson had said he was not withdrawing, but that he would address his campaign status on Monday.