WASHINGTON – As the old saying goes, all is fair in love and war. And politics, too.
Even though Republican Michael Steele says he probably wouldn't want President Bush campaigning for him in Maryland and that he considers his party affiliation a scarlet letter, the White House said Wednesday that Bush still is backing Steele in his Senate race.
"Look," said Bush spokesman Tony Snow, "the president understands what politics are about. And he wants Michael Steele to be elected as senator."
Steele spoke critically of his party and the president during an interview with reporters Monday, under the condition that he not be quoted by name. The Washington Post reported the comments Tuesday without attribution, creating a guessing game about the source among political observers.
The Post quoted the unnamed candidate as saying the GOP-controlled Congress should "just shut up and get something done," that the Iraq war "didn't work" and "we didn't prepare for the peace," that the response to Hurricane Katrina was "a monumental failure of government," and that "there's a palpable frustration right now in the country."
The Steele campaign on Tuesday confirmed to The Associated Press, which did not attend the interview, that he was the source.
Snow declined to say how the president responded when told what Steele had said. "I could, but I won't," Snow said. But he remarked dryly, "I think the comments have come to his attention."
In Maryland, Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich said Wednesday that Steele's independent streak makes him a good candidate.
"He speaks his mind. He's always going to speak his mind, which is why we have such a strong friendship," said Ehrlich, who faces a tough re-election this November. He added, "He's running a great campaign."
Asked whether he agreed with Steele, Ehrlich said, "I'm not going to get into any of that."
Snow said he understands that Steele's opinion of Bush wasn't all bad and that he had some favorable things to say that were not reported. Snow said he's been trying to get through to Steele to get the full story.
He noted that the president, the first lady, the vice president, the president's father and top White House political adviser Karl Rove have all campaigned for Steele.
"It's pretty clear that there's a commitment at this end to making sure that Michael Steele becomes the next U.S. senator from Maryland," Snow said. "And we look forward to working with him."