Monday, February 11, 2008

President Bush: "McCain Is A True Conservative"

Uh, well okay, boss. If you say so.

The Times has it:

President Bush broke his silence on the 2008 presidential race on Sunday, giving his imprimatur to Senator John McCain of Arizona as a “true conservative,” who nonetheless has “got some convincing to do” to persuade fellow Republicans of his bona fides with the right.

The remark, in an hourlong interview broadcast on “Fox News Sunday,” was as close to an endorsement as Mr. McCain will get from Mr. Bush at this stage, before a nominee has been officially declared. It was also a sharp departure for Mr. Bush, who had refused to be drawn into commenting on the race.

“I think that if John’s the nominee, he’s got some convincing to do to convince people that he is a solid conservative,” Mr. Bush told the Fox host, Chris Wallace. “And I’ll be glad to help him if he’s the nominee, because he is a conservative.”

With conservative pundits like Rush Limbaugh saying that a McCain nomination would destroy the Republican Party, the senator’s advisers had been hoping for just this sort of public embrace. It came on the heels of Mr. Bush’s call for unity in a speech Friday to the Conservative Political Action Conference, which was also widely interpreted as an implicit endorsement of Mr. McCain.

Until now, with the exception of an early prediction that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York would be the Democratic nominee, Mr. Bush had done his best to steer clear of extensive discussions of the candidates, especially the Republicans. He has repeatedly said he will not be the “pundit in chief,” and said on Sunday that he did not want to get “into the trap again of getting involved in this primary.”

Even so, Mr. Bush offered his thoughts not only on Mr. McCain, but also on the other remaining Republican candidate, Mike Huckabee, and the Democrats as well. He also defended former President Bill Clinton, who has been accused of playing on racial sentiments by attacking Mrs. Clinton’s opponent, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.

“I can understand why President Clinton wants to campaign hard for his wife,” Mr. Bush said. “And you know, these accusations that Bill Clinton is a racist I think is just wrong. I just don’t agree with it.”


Mr. McCain’s differences with the White House are well known. He did not vote for the president’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, a sore point with groups like the conservative Club for Growth. And he disagreed with Mr. Bush on campaign finance reform and the use of harsh interrogation tactics against terrorism suspects. But Mr. Bush defended him.

“I know him well,” Mr. Bush said. “I know his convictions. I know the principles that drive him. And no doubt in my mind he is a true conservative.”

This quasi-sorta-but-not really endorsement may actually help McCain gain some credibility among conservatives but it doesn't change anything in terms of the problems Republicans have with the Maverick's history and policies. Bush may be convinced that he's driven by conservative principles but the base isn't so the President had it right when he said McCain's got a lot of convincing to do if he's going to win in '08.

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