WASHINGTON (AP) -- Taunted by Republicans to declare war on "radical Islamic terrorism," Democrats are turning to an unlikely ally: George W. Bush.
President Barack Obama, under pressure to be more aggressive on terrorism, regularly cites his predecessor's refusal to demonize Muslims or play into the notion of a clash between Islam and the West. It's a striking endorsement from a president whose political rise was based on opposition to the Iraq war and Bush's hawkish approach in the Middle East.
As Hillary Clinton put it, "George W. Bush was right."
Clinton reminded voters earlier this month of Bush's visit to a Muslim center six days after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. She even quoted his words from that day about those who intimidate Muslim-Americans: "They represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior."
Leading Republican candidate Donald Trump has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S. Fellow candidate Ben Carson deems traditional Muslims unfit for the presidency. Marco Rubio warns of a "civilizational struggle against radical, apocalyptic Islam." Ted Cruz berates Clinton and Obama for refusing to declare war on "radical Islamic terrorism."
Clinton and Obama argue that rhetoric just helps the Islamic State group and like-minded extremists, whose recruitment pitch is based on the narrative of an apocalyptic battle between Islam and the West. The Democrats warned that proposals like Trump's Muslim ban jeopardize national security, drawing a contrast with Bush.
"I was very proud after 9/11 when he was adamant and clear about the fact that this is not a war on Islam," Obama said recently. His message to today's Republican leaders: "They should follow his example. It was the right one. It was the right impulse."
Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton's top challenger for the Democratic nomination, visited a mosque this month in a show of solidarity that evoked Bush's after 9/11. And the Democratic National Committee released an ad contrasting comments by the 2016 Republican contenders with footage of Bush declaring that "Islam is peace."
Bush's example has become particularly poignant for Democrats following recent attacks in Paris and California that have left people more preoccupied with terrorism than at any time since 9/11. Both Clinton and Obama have sought to deflect the critique that they're too soft on the domestic terrorism threat.
Not all Republican candidates have been as harsh about Muslims as Trump has been. Jeb Bush has joined his challengers in describing the enemy as "radical Islamic terrorism." But he's also said the U.S. should follow his brother's lead, arguing in the last party debate that "we can't dissociate ourselves from peace-loving Muslims."
The former president has stayed mostly silent throughout the recent debate. His spokesman, Freddy Ford, recently said Bush wouldn't comment on "Trump's bluster" but repeated Bush's insistence that "true Islam is peaceful." Ford declined to discuss what Bush thinks about Democrats quoting him now.
Muslim groups have called on Obama to follow Bush's example by visiting a mosque, a move that would be risky for a president who has faced longstanding but false claims that he is a Muslim. White House officials didn't rule out the possibility Obama would visit a mosque, but said there were no imminent plans to do so.
"Bush sent a very powerful message to the world and American Muslims that backlash and attacks on this faith community will not be tolerated," said Ibrahim Cooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "We would hope President Obama would make a similar gesture."
Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/josh-lederman