The Bush-McCain Alliance

Bearhug Politics: Careful Steps to a New Bush-McCain Alliance (NYT) [RSS]

The newfound friendship may be good for late-night laughs, but it is deadly serious political business for both men, the result of a deliberate, months-long effort by the White House to woo the Arizona senator – the most popular national political figure in the country – and of Mr. McCain’s self-interested susceptibility to same. The turnabout could not be more striking, and for both men the stakes could be nothing less than the presidency itself.

Four years ago, relations were so strained that Mr. McCain left the Republican convention in Philadelphia two days early, returning for the final night only after a last-minute request by the Bush team. This year, he will have a prime-time speaking slot on the convention’s first night in New York City, play host to the network anchors at a private dinner the day before, campaign with the president in several states the day after, speak to 10 or 15 state delegations and preside over a celebrity party with the comedian Darrell Hammond on the eve of Mr. Bush’s re-nomination.

So what’s up? Pure political physics, friends of both men say.

Mr. Bush is locked in a tight race with Mr. McCain’s old Senate friend John Kerry and needs all the belated help he can get with the moderate, Democratic and independent voters who like Mr. McCain. And Mr. McCain, who has spent months earning the ire of his party by saying nice things about Mr. Kerry and nasty ones about some Bush policies, is eager to show, like Dr. Seuss’s punctilious pachyderm, that he may have meant what he said and said what he meant, but “an elephant’s faithful 100 percent.”

Whether Mr. Bush wins or loses, the Republican race for the White House will be wide open in 2008, and while Mr. McCain has often suggested he would not run again, politicians never really mean never. As he learned in 2000, Mr. McCain could not win the nomination without broader backing from the party establishment than his independence sometimes allows.

“John is so sharp,” said former Senator Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming. “I think he knows that whatever his future is, it can never go anywhere unless he’s seen as supportive of the party and supportive of the president, and anything else will abort whatever he may have in mind.”

Odd as it may be, it’s not particularly surprising. As strong as their differences are, McCain is much closer to Bush than to Kerry on the big issues. While he may be the Republican most admired by Democrats, he’s not a Democrat and could never get elected to the presidency as a Democrat. His best bet is a Bush re-election and a reasonable claim to frontrunner status for 2008.

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, The Presidency, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. La Femme Crickita says:

    At least he isn’t nuanced.

  2. Mark says:

    As a Republican who likes John McCain a lot and who feels that Bush has departed from fundamental tenets of Republicanism (i.e., fiscal responsibility, the wise wielding of military power, reticence about foreign adventurism, protecting free enterprise by disallowing competition-killing monopolism. a concern for the environment), I wince a bit at seeing McCain cozying up so closely to W. But I recognize the shrewdness and the necessity of McCain’s cooperation with the president. If Bush loses this year, as I suspect he will, McCain will be a certifiably loyal GOP-er in the 2008 race.

  3. James Joyner says:

    The national Republican Party, as it has existed since at least 1964, has been a conservative one, not a progressive one in the mold of TR.

    McCain has struck me, since the 2000 campaign at least, as a grandstander who does what he thinks will give him favorable press attention–especially if it’ll make the party squirm. The idiotic McCain-Feingold law is the most feckless such example.

  4. Paul says:

    Frame 7 has caption contest written all over it.

  5. zz says:


    I don’t think McCain had any objections about going into Iraq. And foreign adventurism comes in many forms. I would argue anything outside of a relatively isolationist stance is adventurism, and invites a assymetrical attacks from abroad. To me it is blindingly obvious that the containment of Iraq and the 9/11 attacks and other al Qaeda attacks were related in that if we were not participating in the containment we would not have put ourselves in the position to become a terrorist target. As long as we have lost more people due to containment than in actually fighting and removing Saddam, the Iraq war will definitely be worth the cost in my book. I sometimes think the Bush administration should have put forth this argument, but then you would have to deal with the counterargument that the US “deserved” 9/11 due to its foreign policy.