Friends or Foes? Bush & McCain's Rocky History

A lot has happened since 2000, but watching George W. Bush endorse John McCain will always seems a bit like watching the Yankees cheer for the Red Sox (Giuliani did it, I guess, so what the heck?).

Much has been written about the tortured relationship between the two men, and the nasty 2000 South Carolina campaign.

But not many people remember what took place after Bush secured the nomination.

Here are some excerpts from my notes from 2000, back when I was a real reporter on the campaign trail:

April 30, 2000. McCain sits down with Al Gore. That's right, more than a month after McCain suspended his campaign he still hadn't met with Bush … but he did hold a meeting with the DEMOCRATIC nominee.

That day, I wrote: "The Bush campaign has made no comment on Gore's meeting with John McCain … Gore met with McCain before Bush did, and seemingly with much less difficulty. Remember this meeting comes on the heels of "meetings about meeting" between the Bush and McCain camps."

The day after it happened, I wrote: "Bush aides didn't have too much to say on the subject of Al Gore's weekend meeting with John McCain. But they did say enough to contradict each other. Spokesman Ari Fleischer said it was "appropriate," and the fact McCain was taping for CNN at the Naval Observatory made it "inevitable." However, one Bush senior adviser was much less charitable. He said , "It was peculiar that McCain felt necessary to go to the VP's home to shoot a CNN appearance when CNN has extensive facilities in DC." One does not have to dig too deeply to uncover serious resentment in the Bush camp for McCain and his people.

After much haggling, the Bush and McCain teams agreed to hold a joint appearance on May 9, 2000 in Pittsburgh.

But the day before, it wasn't even clear McCain would endorse Bush.

On the eve of that meeting, I wrote: "A senior Bush adviser says that they had no independent confirmation that McCain would endorse Bush on Tuesday. (It might have already happened by the time many read this note.) The adviser said that while some people in the Bush camp have believed the endorsement was a possibility, they have been operating under the assumption that McCain would not endorse on Tuesday. (Bush aides deny the obvious charge that they have known about the endorsement all along and just tried to dampen expectations to make it seem like a bigger deal.)"

"If McCain does endorse, a senior Bush adviser says that it would be better for both Bush and McCain. The adviser said that they had been worried if McCain did not endorse, no matter how well the meeting went, the story afterward would be, 'why didn't McCain endorse?' For McCain's part, the Bush adviser suggested that with no endorsement, McCain would risk being seen like a sore loser. The Bush adviser used the metaphor of a sporting event, saying that it is not the way you behave if you lose. (As a group, Bush aides are NOT overwhelmed with affection for McCain and his people.) Several Bush people say they will be happy when this whole thing is over.

"One senior Bush adviser downplayed the importance of McCain's support, saying the Bush campaign 'wants' it rather than 'needs' it. The adviser says bit is better to have everyone in the tent rather than not, but that he believes many of McCain's Republican supporters have already come over to Bush, and that Bush right now has an edge among independents. "

McCain is expected to enter the hotel through a public doorway, apparently by his choice. There could be a chance to grab video of him then. One other note of interest — there was only one podium set up for McCain and Bush to share for the joint news conference.

On May 9, 2000, the two men met at the William Penn hotel in Pittsburgh. It was awkward. Really awkward.

Here are some excerpts from their news conference:

Bush: John McCain and I just had a very good meeting. I guess it's the nature of American politics that we would meet and walk into a room with over 100 people to hear how the meeting went.

McCain: I look forward to enthusiastically campaigning for Governor Bush for the next six months between now and November. I believe it is very important that we restore integrity and honor to the white house. I'm convinced that Governor Bush can do that more than adequately. (Can you feel the love? More than adequately???)

How did it feel for McCain to be there?

McCain: I think take the medicine now is probably a good description.

Did the question of putting McCain on the ticket come up?

Bush: I asked his advice about the vice presidency.

McCain: And I asked that I not be considered for vice president of the United States. (Feel the love???)

At one point, it seemed McCain was trying to avoid using the word "endorse." He had a hard time getting the word out of his mouth.

Question: Why do you have difficulty with using the word endorsement?

McCain: I endorse Governor Bush … I endorse Governor Bush, I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush!!!!!!

But he didn't look like he liked it one bit.

On May 10, 2000, I wrote: "Bush aides toed the line after the Bush/McCain meeting on Tuesday. Communications Director Karen Hughes and Ari Fleischer toured the filing center in Pittsburg, assuring reporters they were perfectly happy with McCain's endorsement and not at all displeased by McCain's demeanor or use of language. Most advisers (particularly ones not in the press shop) did NOT return phone calls or e-mails looking for comment and analysis on the meeting. They were unusually quiet, perhaps on purpose."

As uncomfortable as it might have been, there was one strange footnote to the meeting.

On May 10, I wrote: "In addition to the McCain meeting Tuesday, Bush met one-on-one with another person with whom he has a complicated past. Mets manager Bobby Valentine paid a courtesy call on Bush at his hotel. The Mets are in Pittsburg playing the Pirates. Valentine was fired as manager of the Texas Rangers back when Bush was in charge of the team. Despite the firing, Bush insists, "V's always been on board."