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March 10, 2008

Bush-McCain ‘08


On Wednesday, the day after officially clinching the Republican presidential nomination, Sen. John McCain was formally received at the White House by President Bush. In a full Rose Garden ceremony, the president endorsed McCain, praised him vociferously and put his full weight behind the candidacy of his onetime rival.


If you missed the ceremony itself or the news reports about it, don’t worry. You’ll be seeing the text and video of the endorsement many, many times this summer and fall, in just about every Democratic campaign commercial.


All along, the Democrats were clearly going to argue in the fall that electing the Republican candidate would amount to a third Bush term. This strategy appeared to hit a roadblock when, first, the GOP candidates for president invoked Ronald Reagan at every turn and barely mentioned Bush’s name and second, when the candidate with the most sterling anti-Bush credentials ended up winning the nomination.


So what does McCain do? He appears side by side with Bush at the White House, standing by as the president vows, essentially, that McCain would continue his policies on just about every major issue. McCain himself said that he has "great admiration, respect and affection" for the president.


What is McCain thinking? Wouldn’t this be like if Hillary Clinton went back and kissed Suha Arafat again?


It’s all very ironic, considering that McCain has been the one top Republican to actively distance himself from Dubya during his presidency, and the one GOP candidate in this year’s race who conceivably could have broken from the Bush model.


Not only are there significant philosophical differences between Bush and McCain, but the two men ran a bitter primary campaign against each other and are known for their antipathy towards one another. Campaign appearances and convention addresses aside, McCain has done little over the years to shake the notion that he despises Bush and wishes he had been president all this time instead.


Sure, accepting Bush’s endorsement gives McCain credit with the small (and shrinking) subculture of hardcore conservatives who believe to this day that Bush has been a great president. It gives him access to Bush’s prodigious fundraising operation, as well as the Republican National Committee, and it shows that even a man he often feuded with is supportive of McCain succeeding him as president.


But does aligning himself with Bush really help McCain with the parts of the conservative base who, while having no ideological problems with the man, accept that Bush has been an incompetent failure? What about those, inside and outside of the anti-immigration crowd, who long ago turned on Bush for “betraying conservatism” and now oppose McCain, even moreso, for similar reasons? Will they be assuaged by Bush’s endorsement? And what about swing voters, many of whom deserted Bush in ’06 to vote for Democratic congressional candidates?


The DNC reacted quickly, posting video of the entire ceremony on its web site and stating that “we couldn't say it better ourselves." Regardless of who wins on the Democratic side, expect to see more of this throughout the fall. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have already described the Iraq war as some variation of “Bush and McCain’s war,” with Obama actually adding Hillary’s name to the equation.


Tying a current candidate to a past, unpopular candidate is nothing new, of course. There hasn’t been a serious Democratic candidate in my lifetime that I haven’t heard compared to George McGovern at least once. And in 1996, once the bloom had started to come off the rose of the Gingrich revolution, Democrats turned GOP nominee Bob Dole into something called “Dole Gingrich.” Silly and juvenile, yes, but it still worked, and Bill Clinton was re-elected.


This campaign has been full of small moments that at first seemed silly but later turned out to be significant. Hillary crying in the diner in New Hampshire and, well, pretty much everything Mitt Romney said between September and January. It’s not hard to guess, though, that Bush’s embrace of McCain will loom large in the general election. Mark my words: The phrase “Third Term for Bush” will be as tiresome in October as “Ready From Day One” is today.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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