Now that Bush has abandoned "stay the course," will media challenge GOP candidates who have used the phrase?

Now that Bush has abandoned "stay the course," will media challenge GOP candidates who have used the phrase?


Numerous Republican lawmakers and candidates have echoed President Bush's repeated assertions that the United States must "stay the course" in Iraq. But now that Bush has "stopped using" the phrase when talking about the Iraq war, will the media ask GOP candidates who have stressed the need to "stay the course" in Iraq whether they will follow the president's lead in abandoning this language, or adhere to his, and their, original position?

Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, President Bush has repeatedly declared his intent to "stay the course" there -- at least 30 times, as the weblog Think Progress documented. In turn, numerous Republican lawmakers and candidates for federal office have echoed Bush's language, emphasizing in speeches and debates the need to "stay the course" in Iraq. During an October 23 press briefing, however, White House press secretary Tony Snow announced that Bush has "stopped using" the phrase when talking about the Iraq war "[b]ecause it left the wrong impression about what was going on." In light of the White House's shift, will the media ask Republican candidates who have stressed the need to "stay the course" in Iraq whether they will follow the president's lead in abandoning this language, or adhere to his, and their, original position?

Following are examples of Republican candidates in competitive House and Senate races that have previously voiced their support for Bush's "stay the course" strategy in Iraq:

  • Sen. Jim Talent (MO): In a June 21 floor statement in support of House Resolution 861, which declared that "the United States is committed to the completion of the mission to create a sovereign, free, secure, and united Iraq," Talent backed "stay[ing] the course in Iraq until the progress we are making there now ripens into complete victory." He later voted in favor of the measure. Further, a September 24 Kansas City Star article reported that when given two options -- "Stay the course, or gradually start to pull back in Iraq" -- Talent "favors the former." "Complete the mission," the Star quoted him saying.
  • Rep. Jon Porter (NV-03): In a January 31 statement commending Bush on his State of the Union address, Porter wrote, "The President also stressed the importance of staying the course in Iraq, which I recently visited while leading seven other members of Congress on a fact-finding tour of the Middle East. While we want to see our troops return home as soon as possible, the fact remains we have an important job to finish, and a commitment to the Iraqi people to uphold." During a June 16 floor statement in support of H.R. 681, he reiterated his support for Bush's Iraq policy: "Now more than ever we must stay the course and support our Iraqi friends as they continue to strengthen the infrastructure of their government. Last week on June 7, 2006, Coalition forces killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his top lieutenant and spiritual advisor Sheik Abd aI-Rahman. ... The killing of Zarqawi is a testament to the notion that we must stay the course and remain committed to the mission and the Iraqi people."
  • Rep. Clay Shaw (FL-22): A September 22 Orlando Sun-Sentinel article quoted Shaw asserting that "most people want to stay the course" in Iraq. "The American people do not want to support a prolonged war," Shaw added. "We want to get in and get out and come home. Sadly, we just can't do that, and we're stuck." Several weeks later, Shaw stated, "We have no choice but to finish the job that we started," as an October 6 AP article reported. "If we were to abandon Iraq, Iraq would quickly become the center of terrorism," he said.
  • Rep. Heather Wilson (NM-01): On June 15, Wilson expressed her support for H.R. 861 on the House floor, stating, "We made a decision after 9/11 that we would play offense and not defense. As Americans, we know the enterprise that we are engaged in is difficult and requires persistence and resolve. That is very hard on some days. It is very hard for us to understand why it is important to stay the course. But we know this. Our enemies are persistent and will stay the course . They will not stop if we ignore them. So that is the choice we face as a nation and why this debate today is so important. It is a choice between resolve and retreat. For me and my family, I choose resolve."
  • Michele Bachmann (MN-06): A September 22 St. Paul Pioneer Press article reported that Bachmann, during a debate the night before, was asked to choose between three options for Iraq: "Immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, gradual withdrawal or 'staying the course.' " According to the Press, "Bachmann said Americans must demonstrate the will to defeat the country's enemies and 'part of that will be to stay the course.'"
  • Bill Sali (ID-01): An October 25 Associated Press article reported that Sali, during an October 24 debate, said that "staying the course ... was the right idea to follow," despite the fact that the White House had publicly abandoned the phrase the day before. Similarly, in a September 22 debate, Sali declared the United States should "stay the course and finish the job" in Iraq, according to an AP article published the same day.
  • Mike Whalen (IA-01): On the September 22 edition of Iowa Public Television's Iowa Press, host David Yepsen asked Whalen, "What do we do about Iraq?" He responded, "Well, what I think we need to do is stay the course." Further, Whalen was quoted in an October 4 AP article saying, "We have no choice, not just to stay the course ... but to create a stable and Democratic Iraq."

In several other cases, Republican candidates have publicly distanced themselves from the "stay the course" rhetoric or claimed they never endorsed a "stay the course" strategy. But in covering these races, the media have failed to highlight these candidates' prior use of the phrase:

  • Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA): In 2005, Santorum repeatedly aligned himself with Bush on Iraq. In an August 30, 2005, statement, he said, "The road has not been easy -- America has lost many fine military personnel -- but it is critical that we stay the course and give our people the support and recognition to enable them to spread democracy around the world." On December 12, 2005, his spokesman told reporters that Santorum "does believe that things are going well over in Iraq" and "agrees with the president that we should stay the course." And in a December 19, 2005, statement, Santorum noted, "The President has been clear, we will stay the course in Iraq to send a message to those who seek to destroy democracy and hurt innocent people." But on the October 24, 7 p.m., edition of MSNBC's Hardball, when asked by host Chris Matthews about Snow's statement "that 'stay the course' no longer applies as a slogan for this administration's policy," Santorum responded: "Well, it's never been my policy. I don't know whether it's been the administration's policy or not, but it's not been mine." Matthews did not challenge Santorum's statement.
  • Rep. J.D. Hayworth (AZ-05): On April 14, 2004, Hayworth stated that Bush "made a strong, clear case for why we must not fail and he left no doubt in the minds of allies and adversaries alike that America will stay the course in Iraq until democracy is established and secure." Further, during a June 15 floor statement in support of H.R. 861, he said, "This remains an imperfect world with mistakes and challenges that likewise remain, but let us stand steadfast, true to the course, true to the cause, true to freedom. Vote 'yes' on this resolution." But during an October 23 debate, Hayworth appeared to follow the White House in abandoning the rhetoric. When his Democratic opponent, Harry Mitchell, called him a "cheerleader for a failed stay-the-course policy in Iraq," Hayworth responded, "It's not a matter of staying the course. It's a matter of finishing the job, responding and changing tactics with the overall unapologetic goal of victory -- victory to put down the forces of Islamofascism and see a democracy flourish in the troubled Middle East." But while an October 24 AP article on the debate noted both comments, it failed to point out Hayworth's previous statements that the United States must "stay the course" or stay "true to the course."
  • Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele: Steele, the Republican Senate candidate from Maryland, has also backtracked on his previous endorsement of Bush's "stay the course" policy in recent weeks. In a July 10 radio interview, Steele was asked to discuss his views on "what's happening [in Iraq] and the president's view of staying the course." Steele responded, "I am not for cutting and running, and any politician, elected or otherwise, is out there talking about timetables and goals, is playing into the hands of our enemies, who have an enormous capacity to wait. And to wait us out. And I'm not about to get into a situation where we withdraw now only to have to go back three, five years from now to clean up a mess that we should have taken care of right now. So, for me, staying the course, yes, but making sure that we're putting on the ground what we need to ensure at some point soon our troops come home." During an October 5 interview with the editorial board of the Maryland Gazette, however, Steele argued, "Staying the course is not a strategy to win, and it's not giving the American people comfort." In an article the following day, the Gazette reported this comment but failed to point out that Steele had voiced support for "staying the course" in Iraq several months earlier. The Washington Post subsequently reported on October 23 that Steele "has said that U.S. troops should remain in Iraq but that the United States should shift its strategy." But the Post has not once mentioned his shifting position on whether to "stay the course." Meanwhile, The Baltimore Sun reported on October 19 that Steele "has attempted his own balancing act: sticking with Bush on Iraq while expressing criticism of the way the war has been fought," but made no mention of his contradictory statements.

By contrast, news outlets have highlighted attempts by other prominent GOP candidates to shed the "stay the course" language. For instance, Sen. George F. Allen (R-VA) told reporters on October 20 that the United States must "adjust tactics" in Iraq, saying, "Mistakes have been made, and progress has been far too slow. We can't expect to keep doing the same things and get different results." In an October 22 article on Allen's remarks on the war, Washington Post staff writers Tim Craig and Michael D. Shear noted his comments on NBC's Meet the Press a month earlier: "Staying the course means that we don't tuck tail and run, that we don't retreat, that we don't surrender." Meanwhile, an October 23 AP article reported that he had "dropped his stay-the-course mantra," and USA Today noted on October 24 that he had "edged away from his 'stay the course' message."

Similarly, Bob Corker, the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate in Tennessee, asserted during an October 9 debate that he "never, ever said 'stay the course.' " But an October 10 AP article -- headlined "Corker backtracks on 'stay the course' in Iraq" -- contrasted this claim with his statement at a July debate with his Republican primary opponents: "I support what we're trying to do as a country ... I think we should stay the course." Further, an October 10 Knoxville News-Sentinel article noted that Corker said on September 13, "I think we do need to stay the course."

From the October 24, 7 p.m., edition of MSNBC's Hardball:

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about your differences with Bob Casey Jr. -- Bobby Casey. The president's spokesman, today -- we had him on earlier on one of our earlier editions today -- Tony Snow, said that "stay the course" no longer applies as a slogan for this administration's policy. Do you think the ice is cracking around this policy?

SANTORUM: Well it's never been my policy. I don't know whether it's been the administration's policy or not, but it's not been mine. I've been someone who has been out there trying to work to move in a different course that shows the respect that I think unfortunately our enemy deserves. This is a very difficult enemy.

Posted In
Elections, National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Chris Matthews
Propaganda/Noise Machine, 2006 Elections
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