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Bush: As compassionate as he has to be
Just how far will George W. reach out to minorities? As far as he can without alienating any bigots.

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By Jake Tapper

Oct. 6, 1999 | NEW YORK -- Texas Gov. George W. Bush came to this ethnic enclave to offer himself as a new kind of Republican. In a two-day swing through the multicultural bouillabaisse that is New York, the self-described "compassionate conservative" advertised himself as a Republican presidential candidate who is not only unafraid to meet with black people, unlike many members of the GOP, but one who actually cares about the African-American community.

But just how down with the brothers is Bush? At a press conference following the Wednesday tour through the Queens Job Center -- where he was flanked by the otherwise feuding Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- Bush refused to risk even a smidgen of political capital by condemning bigotry except in its most generic form.

Asked about the prejudiced comments of GOP rival Pat Buchanan, Bush again refused to condemn his potential Reform Party rival. Bush competitors like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., -- as well as the methodical Elizabeth Dole and Steve Forbes -- have spoken harshly about Buchanan's assertion that the U.S. should have minded its own business during World War II.

Asked about the recent fine levied against his Louisiana campaign chair, Gov. Mike Foster, who illegally hid the fact that he twice purchased mailing lists from former Klansman David Duke, Bush avoided commenting altogether.

It all left a distinct impression that Bush's efforts to reach out to minority communities fade away when he has to risk losing even one bigot's vote in the process.

As McCain said after Bush continued to kowtow to Buchanan, "by continuing to appease Buchanan, several of our candidates appear to have put politics ahead of our party's principles ... Like Gov. Bush, I want to see a united Republican Party. But no political campaign is worth sacrificing our principles. Anyone who really believes in the politics of inclusion and its importance to our party needs to join me and make it clear to our fellow Americans exactly what our party -- and our country -- stands for."

Bush's calculated timidity is all the more striking in light of his comments Wednesday that he can not only win New York's Republican primary on March 7, but that he also has "a chance to win New York in the year 2000," should he become the party's nominee. Pataki carried the state twice, Bush said, and Giuliani will win next year's Senate race. "I leave this great state upbeat about my chances, I really do," Bush said.

Bush hoped that his incursion into otherwise Democratic territory -- a charter school in Harlem Tuesday morning, a welfare-to-work center in Queens Wednesday -- would improve this chance by allowing him to show tangible examples of how conservatism, in his words, "has become a creed of hope" and "a creed of social progress." But the depth of Bush's commitment to social progress is up for debate.

No surprise there, says Bill Minutaglio of the Dallas Morning News' Austin bureau, who wrote a generally favorable biography of Bush called "First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty," that will hit bookstores later this month. Minutaglio says that Bush might talk a good game when it comes to minorities, but he is never willing to back it up if it entails any risk.

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