SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- In a sign of new-found unease at an undeclared challenge, President Bush questioned the campaign tactics employed by Texas billionaire Ross Perot and suggested yesterday that his likely rival remains an enigma.
"If Ross Perot decides to run, then Ross Perot will have to do what everybody else does: get the issues out there, talk about it," Mr. Bush said. "And I'll be doing the same thing -- and let the American people decide."
Until now, Mr. Bush had refrained from criticism of Mr. Perot and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee. His remarks were published in an interview with the Dallas Morning News.
White House aides conceded that his comments went far beyond anything he has said before about his rivals, adding that the interview appeared to reflect his discomfort with what he regarded as a baffling and ugly campaign.
Questioned about Mr. Perot's unconventional campaign, Mr. Bush said: "I don't plan to spend a lot of time on the Phil Donahue show. . . . I'm president. I try to conduct myself with a reasonable degree of dignity, seriousness."
Mr. Bush was in Indiana to attend graduation ceremonies at the University of Notre Dame. He used the commencement address to warn that the American family was an "institution under siege" and to preach a gospel of traditional family values.
But class of 1992 valedictorian Sarah J. McGrathy won rousing cheers with remarks that challenged many of Bush's policies, and one-fourth of the 2,300 graduates wore armbands objecting to the president's presence in an election year.
Mr. Bush listened uncomfortably through the remarks. He received an honorary doctorate.
Meanwhile in University Park, Texas, Jack Conrow, 20, of Dallas, who held a knife and a sign reading "Give Hinckley another chance" at Southern Methodist University, where President Bush gave a commencement speech Saturday, was released on bond yesterday.
Mr. Conrow's sign apparently referred to John Hinckley, who shot and wounded President Ronald Reagan in March 1981.