RNC attack on Obama’s bus tour ignores Bush’s political travel costs

By Kase Wickman
Monday, August 15, 2011 12:04 EDT
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The Republican National Committee released a tailored, satirical attack ad Monday as President Barack Obama began a three-day bus tour of the Midwest, focusing on jobs and the economy.

The 11-page pdf masquerades as a press guide for what the RNC has dubbed “A Totally Non-Political, Taxpayer-Funded Administration Event That Just Happens to Criss-Cross Several Battleground States Critical to the President’s Reelection” — or, for short: the Debt-End Bus Tour (DEBT).

The “release” is labeled as being from the “Office of the Teleprompter” and gives “guidance” to reporters, sampled below:

During this totally non-political, taxpayer-funded excursion, the President will not be offering any specific details or anything resembling a plan to tackle the looming debt crisis facing America. If that was what you were expecting, feel free to nod off during the President’s open press events. You won’t hear anything that you haven’t heard before.

The president’s trip is earmarked as a non-political tour — i.e. taxpayer-funded and not for campaign purposes. Conservatives have targeted the trip, which precedes a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, with criticism. GOP 2012 presidential contender and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has released his own attack video, dubbing it the “Magical Misery Tour.”

It’s not unusual for the line between official and campaign travel to blur somewhat leading up to an election, Center for Responsive Politics spokesman Michael Beckel told Raw Story in an email. In fact, it may be impossible to draw a line, as the president is judged not only on his campaign events, as other candidates are, but also by his actions as the sitting Commander-in-Chief.

“President Obama is hardly alone among presidents who have taken their official business to places where the political benefits are maximized,” Beckel said. “And opponents of a sitting president, be that president a Democrat or a Republican, have long criticized the president for mixing re-election business with the business of governing.”

“On trips when official business is mixed with campaign business, it can be harder to discern how to best apply [the FEC's] policy,” Beckel said.

The White House, however, insisted that the trip isn’t a campaign outing.

“The president views it as one of the chief responsibilities in office to spend some time outside Washington, D.C., talking to people all across the country about the economy and about how they’re impacted by the policy decisions that he’s making here in Washington, D.C.,” deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Friday. “That isn’t just an appropriate thing for a president to do, it’s something that a president should do.”

Presidential trips in swing states in the year preceding an election are an established norm. A 2004 Brookings Institute paper compared the pre-reelection travel of presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and found that they both upped their travel, focusing on swing states, leading up to the election. If anything, an analytical look at Obama’s predecessors shows that Bush is more guilty of “targeted” travel in his office leading up to election.

Between January 1 and May 31, 2004, Bush took 75 trips to 29 states, 56 percent of which were swing states. In the same time period in 1996, Clinton visited 25 states on 58 visits, 47 percent to swing states.

In June 2004, the Associated Press published a report saying that Bush had used his Air Force One privileges for campaign travel more often than any president in history. Federal Election Commission rules stipulate that for campaign trips using the presidential plane, the campaign must reimburse the government the equivalent of a first-class commercial fare for each person on board.

Compared to the $56,800 estimated to operate Air Force One per hour, the first-class fare is a bargain.

Only 1 percent of the $203 million Bush raised for his reelection campaign went toward reimbursing the government for travel costs, according to the AP’s report.

Indeed, the trend of Bush, Clinton and now Obama’s travel habits suggest a “permanent campaign trail,” presidential scholars claim, with an unending focus on swing states.

“I try to balance my job with my desire to win four more years,” Bush said in August 2004.

Beginning today and until Wednesday, Obama will travel through Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota via bus.

Watch the RNC’s accompanying video attack ad about Obama’s bus tour, in which a narrator intones “the road ahead darkens.” Embedded below via YouTube.

Kase Wickman
Kase Wickman
Kase Wickman is a reporter for Raw Story. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and grew up in Eugene, OR. Her work has been featured in The Boston Globe, Village Voice Media, The Christian Science Monitor, The Houston Chronicle and on NPR, among others. She lives in New York City and tweets from @kasewickman.
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