President Reagan yesterday sidestepped the controversy that flared in Seattle over the weekend after Republican presidential candidate Marion G. (Pat) Robertson made a remark interpreted by many GOP activists as an insult to Nancy Reagan.
"I didn't hear it. I just heard about it," Reagan told reporters yesterday as he left the White House to visit his wife at Bethesda Naval Hospital, where she is recovering from a mastectomy. "I don't know exactly what he said, but I heard him apologizing about it."
Robertson spokeswoman Connie Snapp said yesterday that Robertson has not apologized to Reagan or the First Lady because he believes the remark was "completely misinterpreted." She said he is distressed at the misunderstanding, however, and will make his feeling known when he meets Reagan and the other GOP candidates Tuesday in a long-scheduled party-unity session at the White House.
The flap developed after Robertson told a Republican gathering in Seattle Friday: "My wife does not like communists. I want to set your mind at ease. She has never suggested that I make an accommodation with the Soviet Union in order to win a Nobel Peace Prize."
Angry GOP leaders at the Seattle meeting said they assumed he was referring to the First Lady's professed desire that her husband win the prize, and they branded it a "cheap shot." Robertson said he was not referring to Nancy Reagan. But, so far, he has not said to whom he was referring.
The controversy overshadowed speeches by all six Republican hopefuls in a final rehearsal before their first nationally televised debate on Oct. 28. Following are highlights of their presentations: George Bush: "I can't tell you how difficult it's been for me in the last six and a half years to keep my charisma in check," he said, kidding both himself and the vice presidency. Of the Reagan years, he said: "Our triumph has been real but incomplete." He promised, "I will not raise your taxes, period," and called for an end to Internal Revenue Service "harassment" and a lowering of the capital gains tax to 15 percent.
He denounced protectionism as "just an attempt to shelter ourselves from change." In an apparent slap at Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole, he said of the doomed Supreme Court nomination of Robert H. Bork: "Some people want to blame the president. I blame the Senate. That's where the votes are, and that's where the blame should be." His closing pledge: "I will never apologize for America."
Alexander M. Haig Jr.: He ridiculed the "gaggle" of Democratic presidential aspirants: "Not a one of them could tie the bootstraps of a single one of ours." He warned that New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo will be the Democrats' "knight on a white horse," saying, "He didn't go to Moscow to study the New York state budget."
In a veiled swipe at Bush, Haig said: "It's not enough to have just been there, to have your ticket punched; it's whether while you were there you made a difference." He acknowledged that "as a candidate, I'm plagued by the military background I'm so proud of." He said that, having seen the "body bags" and the "bloodshed," he would use force only as a last resort. "Let me tell you, the fella who gets you in trouble is the fella who hasn't been there."
Robertson: In his administration, Robertson said, the "left will be defunded," the Joint Chiefs of Staff will be men who have "learned how to fight rather than accommodate" and prayer would be back in schools, along with phonics, values education and multiplication tables. Civil rights laws making it a crime not to rent housing to AIDS victims would be eliminated. If a terrorist "laid a finger on an American citizen . . . there would be no place in the world he could hide." If a war came, "I would do everything in my power to end it as quickly as possible. We cannot play games with the lives of our boys in uniform."
Dole: "Why should Bob Dole be president?" he asked, and answered by citing a recent newspaper survey showing that Americans want a leader who understands government and can get things done. Well, he said, that's him. "Let me tell you who I am," he said, describing his humble beginnings in Russell, Kan., his World War II injury, his 39-month recuperation, the way townsfolk passed cigar boxes to collect enough money to pay for his many operations. "I try to remember who I am and how I got where I am and where I'm from," he said.
He said he entered politics with the same pragmatism that has been his hallmark for three decades: "The Democratic County chairman said, 'Bob, you should run as a Democrat,' and he told me why. Then the Republican chairman said, 'Bob, you should run as a Republican,' and he told me why. Then he added one more thing: 'In this county, there are twice as many of us.' So I made a great philosophical decision."
Jack Kemp: "We may not get every vote, but we have to want every vote," he said. He called the Democrats "Malthusians" and "manic egalitarians" who had stolen not only Neil Kinnock's speech, but "the entire British Labor Party platform." He vowed to nominate Judge Bork again should the opportunity arise in a Kemp administration and said he would build a strategic defense system, noting, "I'm a dove -- a heavily-armed dove."
Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV: Speaking from the 3-by-5 cards he has been using all year, he outlined his platform of "bold" changes: partial privatization of Social Security; rapid phasing out of farm subsidies; creation of a voucher system in education; elimination of welfare and its replacement with guaranteed jobs for those who cannot work in the private sector; and requirement that teen-agers be drug-free in order to get a driver's license.