DEARBORN, Mich. -- President Bush and Republican challenger Patrick J. Buchanan came about as close to each other as they're likely to get in the 1992 campaign season yesterday as Mr. Bush defended his anti-recession package before the Economic Club of Detroit and Mr. Buchanan criticized it at a news conference nearby.
Mr. Buchanan, at the Ritz Carlton hotel, repeated his appeal for a face-to-face debate with the president. But Mr. Bush, at the Fairlane Manor down the road, continued to spurn the idea, preferring to tell a friendly business audience that his recovery program would help the sagging U.S. auto industry.
The closest he came to referring to Mr. Buchanan was a plea to his audience to reject the voice "of isolationism that wants us to turn our backs and run away from our future." Vice President Dan Quayle and other Bush surrogates have accused Mr. Buchanan of isolationism in his call to end foreign aid and spend the savings on meeting domestic needs.
Mr. Bush said he had "too much respect for workers on the assembly lines" to offer easy answers simply for political gain. "All the quick-fix solutions in the world will not get us where we want to go," he said.
But the president did announce the lifting of an Environmental Protection Agency regulation requiring automakers to equip new cars with a device for controlling escaping gas fumes during refueling. He said the Department of Transportation had expressed "safety concerns" because such devices "unnecessarily increase the risk of vehicle fires."
Asked by one luncheon guest why a General Motors plant in Texas was kept open while the large Willow Run plant here was slated for shutdown in the recent GM cutback, Mr. Bush bristled, saying he had heard that Democratic Sen. Donald W. Riegle Jr. of Michigan charged that he had played a role in the decision. It was, he said, "a direct challenge to my character" and "baldfaced lie."
Dodging a question about whether Mr. Buchanan's attacks on )) him would hurt the GOP's chances in November, Mr. Bush said he was "going to continue to run what I hope has been a high-level campaign." He said that after Tuesday's primaries here and in Illinois he planned to strike a "balance" between attention to foreign and domestic affairs.
For his part, Mr. Buchanan zeroed in on the GM layoffs, visiting the Willow Run plant after his news conference. But he had the rather embarrassing task of defending the purchase of a German-made luxury car for his wife three years ago and acknowledging that he called three Cadillacs he had bought "lemons."
In his defense, the GOP challenger noted that he had said in the same interview that U.S. cars were getting better, that he now owns a good Cadillac and that the next car he buys will be American-made.
Mr. Buchanan offered a plan to bolster the U.S. auto industry that included a 15 percent tax credit, up to $2,000 for Americans who buy a new American-made car, tough reciprocity with Japan on auto exports and imports, and removal of federal regulations on fuel standards that inhibit industry growth. He said, "Americans love their cars," and he wanted to get them "hooked on American cars again."
Mr. Buchanan showed a television ad prepared for the Bush-Quayle campaign noting he owned a Mercedes and then his own ad listing two prominent members of the Bush campaign as "foreign agents." He said Charles Black, a senior political adviser, and James Lake, the campaign's new communications director, were lobbyists for Japanese interests. He also listed Republican National Chairman Richard N. Bond as a registered lobbyist for the Panamanian government.
Comparing his purchase of the Mercedes and the presence of these men in the Bush campaign, Mr. Buchanan called on Americans to "decide who made the bigger mistake."
Mr. Bush is not expected to return to Michigan before Tuesday's primary, in which he is strongly favored to repeat his earlier margins of victory of 2-to-1 or more over Mr. Buchanan. But the former TV commentator hopes to tap into discontent with Mr. Bush in this state that has more than 9 percent unemployment and to grab a share of the Reagan Democrats in the suburban Detroit white- and blue-collar counties of Oakland and Macomb.
Asked yesterday why he would not heed leading Republicans' call to quit the race, Mr. Buchanan noted that such calls came from Bush-Quayle supporters. He said that his challenge was healthy for the party and that he would continue through the June primary in California. But asked whether he intended to go to the Republican National Convention in August as a candidate, he said only, "We'll have to see."