Bush and McCain Find Common Ground

Jim Rutenberg and Adam Nagourney have an interesting piece in today’s NYT about the close working relationship between President Bush and Senator John McCain, two men long perceived as bitter rivals.

After years of competitive and often contentious dealings, President Bush and Senator John McCain of Arizona are building a deepening if impersonal relationship that is serving the political needs of both men. Given their history of intense rivalry and sometimes personally bitter combat, their newfound partnership is seen by some Republicans as born more of political calculation than personal evolution. Either way, it could prove valuable to Mr. McCain in his efforts to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 by sending a signal to Mr. Bush’s conservative base and fund-raising network that, at a minimum, the White House will not stand in the Arizonan’s way.

Bush McCain Hug Photo The president had Mr. McCain to the White House three times in one week recently to talk about how Mr. Bush should make the case for the war in Iraq and how to break the wall of conservative opposition to the immigration measures proposed by both men. Mr. McCain was back in the Oval Office again on Tuesday to talk about ways to win approval of the line-item veto.

Behind the scenes, during a month in which he repeatedly came to Mr. Bush’s public defense, Mr. McCain called the president to offer words of support, he recounted in an interview. “I said, ‘Look, hang on, things are bad,’ ” Mr. McCain said. “I said, ‘I’m proud of the job you are doing, and I wanted you to know that I will continue to do what I can to help.’ “I’ve tried, when his numbers went down, to be more supportive and outspoken, because I’d love to pick him up,” Mr. McCain said.


Still, for all the talk of reconciliation, both sides describe the relationship between arguably the two highest-profile leaders of the Republican Party as almost entirely professional, a little stiff and the product of the pragmatic calculation by two politicians who see potential gain in striking a peace with a powerful rival. “This is a very odd partnership that is almost founded at the moment on mutual need,” said Tom Rath, a Republican leader in New Hampshire and a longtime ally of the Bush family, who hastened to add that Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain share more convictions than people realize and would not be working so closely if that were not the case.


Whatever the motivation, the relationship has potentially big political implications for the 2008 race, although Mr. Bush’s aides have said that he would almost certainly stay out of the Republican primary contest. And some aides declined to comment publicly for this article out of concern, they said, that they would appear to be giving the White House stamp of approval for a McCain campaign. But the president appears to have stronger ties to Mr. McCain than to the other likely presidential candidates.


But Mr. McCain has become one of the biggest defenders of Mr. Bush, even on some of the president’s most unpopular moves, including the administration’s decision this year to approve a deal giving control of several American ports to a company owned by the Dubai government. “On a series of very tough issues, McCain’s been there,” said Tony Snow, the White House press secretary.

There’s a bit of an irony there. McCain has annoyed loyal Republicans, myself included, with his eagerness to go against the party leadership and court the media spotlight. On these issues, both he and the president were staunchly against the party base and stood firm despite that. In my view, both men are right and the base wrong on the merits on them.

Setting aside personal pique for mutual advantage is a welcome sign of political maturity. Obviously, Bush is in a position to help McCain and vice versa.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    McCain is a media darling because he craves the spotlight, has a compelling life story, and, most of all, because he opposed Bush in 2000. Whatever reputation he has as a maverick is exaggerated. Look at the man’s voting record and ACU rating.

    Despite all the kvetching by libertarian-leaning Republicans, I’ve always believed that, were McCain to be the nominee of the party, they’d rally ’round. I haven’t heard anything to convince me otherwise.

    I similarly believe that, despite pledges of eternal enmity by some Democrats against Hillary Clinton, if she’s the party’s nominee, they’ll develop selective amnesia.

  2. Wayne says:

    I have to disagree. Many of GOP donâ??t like spoiled sports and are not as forgiving as the Dems. The Dems will support anyone as long as there is a D behind the name. The Reps are much more stuck on actual principals and donâ??t support someone just because of the R behind the name.