Bush, McCain Ride Roller Coaster to Rose Garden

The President's endorsement could go a long way with the GOP base.


March 5, 2008 — -- It has been a rocky path that has led to President Bush's Rose Garden embrace of the newly anointed Republican presidential nominee John McCain but today at the White House the former competitor presented a united front for the party.

"John showed incredibly courage, strength of character and perseverance," Bush said his endorsement, "And that's exactly what we need in a president. Someone who can handle the tough decisions. Someone who won't flinch in the face of danger."

Acknowledging the bumpy road behind them in his remarks, Bush said "I have got to know John well in the last eight years. I've campaigned against him and I've campaigned with him...he's going to be the president who will bring determination to defeat an enemy and a heart big enough to love those who hurt."

McCain's decision to visit the White House the day after securing the GOP nomination is a dicey one. He needs Bush's help with the party's conservative base, but any ties to Bush could alienate moderate Republicans and independent voters who are key to a possible McCain victory in November.

Today, McCain invited the president to join him on the campaign trail "both from raising money and the much-needed finances for the campaign and addressing the challenging issues that face this country."

Bush said "there's an appropriate amount of campaigning for me to do" and dismissed the notion that his low approval ratings would hurt McCain's White House ambitions come November.

"They're not going to be voting for me," Bush said. "I've had my time in the Oval Office."

With the Democratic race raging with no end in sight, McCain has the comparative luxury of time to raise money, heal wounds and bring the Republican party together.

Since their heated and bitter battle for the 2000 Republican nomination, Bush and McCain have oscillated between frenemies and cohorts, never in one place long enough for a new dynamic between them to take root.

McCain campaigned for Bush during his 2004 re-election campaign.

Perino said Wednesday, "President Bush has never forgotten how hard Sen. McCain worked to help reelect him in 2004 and now he looks forward to doing the same in 2008."

The two enjoyed a friendly rapport on the stump and Bush leaned on McCain to deliver the independent vote.

At an Army base in Washington in June 2004, the two politicians embraced on stage before Bush praised McCain. "When he speaks of service and sacrifice, he speaks from experience. The United States military has no better friend in the United States Senate than John McCain," the president said.

Two weeks after Bush won the White House, McCain criticized Bush's stance on climate change as "terribly disappointing."

Following that, McCain upset the White House by forging a bipartisan compromise on Bush's judicial selections and leading a rebellion against the president on interrogation policies for terrorism suspects.

On the trail, McCain embraces some aspects of the Bush legacy but points to strong differences with certain parts of the credo, namely Iraq.

Though McCain praises the president for embracing the surge strategy, McCain still sells himself as the only Republican to fight against the Iraq strategy of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

His harshest language came in a February 2007 speech when he said, "I think that Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history."

Recently, McCain has been telling reliably conservative audiences that he believes Bush deserves credit for the fact that the United States has not been attacked by terrorists since the 9/11 catastrophe. "He sure would have gotten the blame if we had," McCain says.

Though McCain recently won the endorsement of former President George H.W. Bush, the current president has been tight-lipped about expressing favor for one potential GOP nominee over another. In an interview last month, Bush said of the eventual GOP nominee, "to the extent I can help, I want to."

As McCain emerged the obvious front-runner, Bush has stepped forward to defend the Arizona Republican's conservative credentials, stopping short of an endorsement.

Bush admitted to Fox News last month that McCain "has some convincing to do to convince people that he is a solid conservative. And I'll be glad to help him if he's the nominee because he is a conservative."

For McCain, whose weak points in the Republican base include key blocs of religious and conservative voters who cast ballots for former rival Mike Huckabee, the president's stamp of approval in the Rose Garden could go a long way.

Travel with McCain is not on Bush's schedule as of yet.

"I do expect the president will do some campaigning with Sen McCain but it's really premature for us to say," the White House press secretary said. "The President in his position needs to help all GOP candidates heading into the 08 election. "

Hitting a jocular note during the press conference, Bush he'd "find ample time to help." "I could help raising money. And if he wants my pretty face standing by his side at one of these rallies, I'll be glad to show up," Bush continued, "But they're going to be looking at him, you know. I'm going to be in Crawford with my feet up."

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