*Update: Former Gov. Linda Lingle on Tuesday denied ever describing President George W. Bush as the nation’s “greatest president,” an assertion contradicted by Lingle herself a decade ago.
The Republican challenged U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, her Democratic opponent for U.S. Senate, to produce a citation for the statement during a debate sponsored by KITV and the online news site Civil Beat. “I would ask that Congresswoman Hirono cite where that was said, because it’s not a statement I ever made,” Lingle said.
“Certainly, after 9/11, when President Bush faced an attack on our nation, I thought he did an outstanding job of stepping forward, of uniting the nation, of developing a plan.”
But Lingle insisted that the “quote she mentioned, never happened.”
Hirono said she was “astounded.”
Lingle’s “greatest president” assessment of Bush has been used against her by Democrats for a decade, and, while it is difficult to locate the precise origin, it is also difficult to find any prior occasion when Lingle flatly denied making the comment.
An initial search through the electronic archives of the Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin on Tuesday night turned up a reference in a David Shapiro column in the Honolulu Advertiser on May 8, 2002, about Lingle’s performance at the state Republican convention:
She got her way when delegates removed any mention of abortion from the party’s platform to dodge an ugly fight between pro-life and pro-choice forces. But the issues are still there, and Republicans can’t hide from them forever.
Lingle draws attention to the matter herself when she calls George W. Bush “the greatest president ever” — an overstatement that makes even some Republicans cringe.
*Update: Shapiro, asked Wednesday about Lingle’s denial, provided an email from Lingle that he received after his column appeared. Lingle, in the email, claims that she misspoke in her state convention speech and that she meant to say that Bush was a “great president.”
Thanks for covering my speech at the convention and the generally
upbeat piece. You would have to pick up on the “greatest President
ever” line that I misspoke. It was not in my notes and I meant to say
a great president. It was fair comment nonetheless, and I appreciate
your continued interest in the race.
The late writer Bob Dye made a similar reference in a commentary about the governor’s race on May 19, 2002:
At the recently concluded GOP convention, Lingle called President Bush our “greatest president.” Bush is riding high in the popularity polls, so Lingle could gain by association. Or perhaps her evaluation was little more than ebullient hyperbole in the frenzy of partisan self-congratulation. Nevertheless, by so unashamedly allying herself with Bush, she runs the risk of being tarred with the same brush if he or a close ideological aide take a tumble.
Asked by Big Island Now about the statement during the Senate campaign this year, the Lingle campaign said in September:
By all accounts, Linda Lingle made the reference about President Bush in 2002. The context was in relation to his actions in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. After the horrific attack on our country, Americans needed real leadership, and President Bush provided strong, determined and calm, decisive actions.