February 10th, 2008
01:59 PM ET
10 years ago

Bush: McCain's got some convincing to do

President Bush appeared at a gathering of conservative activists Friday.

President Bush appeared at a gathering of conservative activists Friday.

(CNN) - In an interview broadcast Sunday, President Bush offered to help Sen. John McCain make his case to conservatives if he becomes the Republican presidential nominee, saying there is "no doubt" McCain is a "true conservative."

Speaking to "Fox News Sunday," the president said McCain is "very strong" on national defense, "tough fiscally," wants to make Bush's tax cuts permanent, and opposes abortion rights. "His principles are sound and solid as far as I'm concerned," the president said.

Bush is not endorsing a candidate. He also had praise for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, calling him "a good, solid conservative person."

The president weighed in on the Democratic race, saying it "seems far from over to me." And he rejected criticism of former President Clinton's work on the campaign trail for Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

"I can understand why President Clinton wants to campaign hard for his wife. And those accusations that Bill Clinton's a racist, I think is just wrong. I just don't agree with it."

As for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Bush said, "I certainly don't know what he believes in.

"The only foreign policy thing I remember he said was he's going to attack Pakistan and embrace Ahmadinejad."

Obama said last summer that as president he would consider unilateral military action against sites in Pakistan. "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act, we will," he said.

The remark at the time sparked criticism from fellow Democrats and from the Pakistani government. Obama said he stood by it.

In a CNN debate last July, the candidates were asked whether they would meet "without precondition, during the first year of your administration" with leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea.

Obama said he would because "the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them - which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration - is ridiculous."

But Clinton answered, "I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year. I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort."

A president should not "promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are," she said. "I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes. I don't want to make a situation even worse. But I certainly agree that we need to get back to diplomacy, which has been turned into a bad word by this administration."

The difference in their answers has become a hot-button issue on the campaign trail.

After Bush's remark Sunday, Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton issued a statement trying to shift focus to Obama's position on the Iraq war, saying Obama opposed the "disastrous war in Iraq from the start" and "doesn't need any foreign policy advice from the architect of the worst foreign policy decision in a generation."

The president's remarks about McCain could help the senator from Arizona in the long road ahead of shoring up support from conservatives.

Asked whether McCain is a "true conservative," Bush responded, "Absolutely. I know him well, I know his convictions, I know the principles that drive him, and no doubt in my mind that he is a true conservative."

McCain has broken with Bush on key issues, including campaign finance reform and the treatment of detainees. But Bush said, "You can find in the course of any senator's career a place where they may have differed with the president." Voters should look at the "principles by which this person would be making decisions," he added.

Asked about some leading conservative pundits who oppose McCain's nomination, Bush said, "I think that if John's the nominee, he's got some convincing to do to convince people that he is a solid conservative. And I'd be glad to help him if he's the nominee."

While Huckabee remains in the race, McCain is far ahead in the delegate count, and is widely expected to clinch the nomination.

–CNN's Josh Levs

(updated 2 p.m. ET)

Filed under: John McCain • President Bush
soundoff (86 Responses)
  1. Davido

    This shows how out of touch with reality George Bush is. Who said Bill Clinton was a racist?? Not even black talk radio labeled him a racist. It looks like Bush is trying to get sympathy for Hillary and thereby get her elected so the Rove political machine can go to work again......

    Wow, just wow. Someone should just muzzle this guy so he can't do any more damage the rest of his term.

    February 10, 2008 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  2. get out and vote

    His ignorance is exactly what put us all in the situation we're in now!
    Goodbye DUBYA

    February 10, 2008 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  3. True Democrat

    I think it comes as little surprise that the concept of "hope" surprises this president.

    February 10, 2008 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  4. F. Lynn

    President bush, If you want to know what he believes in, watch his speeches and the debates! It's all out there. Your answer is a convenient way of trying to disregared the negitive comments he makes about your administration. We certianly know what you stand for and not much of it's good !

    Obama encapsulates this nations desire for change. I haven't been this energized to work in a campaign sense I started doing it in the 70's. Finally a candidate that listens to the people and wants a real debate. If he can do only half of what he said, we will be better off than 8 years of your administration !

    It's time we end the rule of Cliton/bush and redefine our coutry for the better.

    It's time for OBAMA, "Yes We Can"

    February 10, 2008 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  5. Sue, Michigan

    I'm still trying to figure out how a person calling himself a conservative can:
    1. Approve of torture
    2.Send thousands of troops to die needlessly anywhere
    3.Refuse to spend money on children's health, yet give no-bid contracts to the wealthiest companies in America
    4. Be against abortion but for capital punishment
    5. Lie
    6. Break laws everyday because he can
    7. Berate Congress for laws that he adds signing statements to so he can ignore them.
    8. Set up a secret police force (Blackwater) who answers to no one but him
    9. Care so little about the plight of Katrina victims
    10. Be against health care for our poorest citizens
    11. Sleep at night

    February 10, 2008 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  6. Brigitte

    Bush doesn't know what Obama believes in? Alas, it took 7 1/2 years for the two of us to finally agree on something! I'm baffled too.

    "We are the change we've been waiting for"? Huh?

    Hillary 08 – Experience Change

    February 10, 2008 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  7. Zazzahmat

    Both Bush and McCain are cut from the same poisonous tree. They are power/war mongors who believe might is right. They have lost touch with justice, humanity, and the diginity of The United States of America. Bush has almost destroyd the world and McCain would do the same. We are tired of the greedy, filthy rich and death, destruction and war and the continuous murder of Mother earth.

    February 10, 2008 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  8. Mark

    Obviously, President Bush is trying to influence Americans to vote for Hillary Clinton rather than Barack Obama in the Democratic primaries. President Bush knows that John McCain has a good chance of beating Hillary Clinton in the general election and is trying to have an effect on the Democatic primaries. Not so subtle!

    February 10, 2008 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  9. Brandon

    That confirms it then.
    Clinton is racist, and McCain has no convincing to do.

    February 10, 2008 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  10. Andrew Morency

    Presidential hopeful John McCain's history of working against GW on key issues can only help his cause. I guess McCain has been smart to stay away from President Bush-keep it up...please!

    February 10, 2008 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  11. Angry Republican

    While I was a county campaign co-chair for Senator McCain in 2000, I have grave doubts about 2008. I'd be ecstatic if the GOP could rid itself of the Limbaughs, Colters, Hannitys, O'Reillys and similar ilk, They're so out of touch with the American mainstream that continued or increased influence would doom the GOP's chances in this and subsequent elections. The good news is that McCain has not been, is, nor will be part of that gang.

    The bad news is the comment about 100 years in Iraq. While I agree that we can't just cut and run, this war has ruined us financially, militarily and made a mockery of our heritage. It's amazing that there is so much goodwill in other countries towards us after the almost two Bush terms.

    Senator McCain, I respect and like you. I could even support you again if it weren't for your war stance. If Clinton is the the Democratic nominee then I'll probably vote for you. If Barack Obama can win the Democratic nomination and wisely chooses a running mate, then this lifelong Republican will strongly support him.

    February 10, 2008 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  12. bobturner

    Wow! what insight, coming from the all-star that gave us this in-depth analysis of Vladimir Putin:

    ""I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul."

    February 10, 2008 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  13. Christiaan, Norman, OK

    I'll bet Bush doesn't think HE'S a racist either. But, you gotta give to the guy when he's right: the idea that Bill Clinton is a racist, at least in any conscious sense, is just about the most absurd thing ever.

    Though I do think this shows a bit of the Republican's hand. There's a subtle attack on Obama in what he said. I think the reason for that is that Obama has a better shot at beating out McCain than does Senator Clinton. McCain can reach the middle in a way that Clinton cannot. However, there is no one in the country who hit the middle better than Obama. It's been his entire game from the get-go. The man has single-handedly redefined the middle game, not to mention the rhetoric of every campaign on both sides of the fence.

    Go Obama!!! Lead us into the next century.

    February 10, 2008 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  14. Javier

    This seems like a very calculated set of comments regarding the democratic candidates. I'm sure Bush was told to say these thing because republicans want Clinton to win the democratic nomination. That is the only chance they have in winning the general election.

    February 10, 2008 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  15. cynthia

    yea bush don't think bill is racist but bush's comment in the article about obama is jut that....he just wanted to make a little sly comment to in people's mind....what an idiot

    February 10, 2008 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  16. aeden

    As for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Bush said, "I certainly don't know what he believes in."

    In relation/response to what question? That's a pretty wide-ranging statement.

    February 10, 2008 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  17. Johnson

    "As for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Bush said, "I certainly don't know what he believes in.""

    Maybe if he payed attention to the presidential race instead of taking breaks and days off he would know what Obama believes in. I doubt he has even heard Obama's speeches nor has he been to Obama's website to look at the issues.

    February 10, 2008 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  18. Nancy

    It is apparent the Republicans want Clinton to win. This is so transparent. They are indeed salivating. They are waiting in the wings to pounce. It is absurd to think that Obama will be slaughtered by McCain. He can stand on his own. All one has to do is look at his record and listen to him speak. He has achieved so much in an incredibly short span of time. The Clintons have been around forever. Let’s leave the relics of the past behind. This moment in time belongs to OBAMA!!!

    February 10, 2008 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  19. F. Lynn

    This is important to remember, Obama wants the best for this country and his words ring true:

    "The stakes are too high and the challenges are too great to play the same old Washington game with the same old Washington players and expect a different result," Obama told a hugely supportive crowd of Democrats at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Richmond, Virginia.

    "People want to turn the page. They want to write a new chapter in American history."

    That is why the public is so energized in this with our turn-out more than 2 to 1 of the GOP. They have the same old "Washinton insider" Mc Cain, who filps over here to the Democrates then flops back again to the republicans and even does that within the republican party, as most Washington players do! How he will play the "gumby trick" will be interesting to watch him being stretched between the middle of the road where the Independants are and the far right where the evanglicals live. It will be tough!

    Vote OBAMA and let's get America strighten out

    February 10, 2008 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  20. Ginny CA

    Thank you, President Bush! For speaking the truth about Bill Clinton and your opinion of Barack Obama. I never dreamed I would thank you for anything, what with the war and all, but I must say, your " basic decency" stock just went up several points in my mind.

    February 10, 2008 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  21. Seekster

    Bush your a great guy and all but stay out of this. You are not a Conservative and Conservatives can decide for themselves who is and is not one of their own. McCain will still win the election but he is not a Conservative.

    February 10, 2008 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  22. JPerez

    What a loser. If I were the press, I would save money and not even talk to this guy. Why do they do it? No one cares what this liar says. Most of it is are lies.

    February 10, 2008 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  23. Sabrina

    I think it is very clear who Bush is supporting. He made mention of both Mcain and Clinton, However nothing in reference to Mr. Obama. How can you speak on the behalf of former democratic President Clinton and Mcain, but not give the least amount of credit to Mr. Obama. This is the reality of the same name game political arena.

    They don't want a change, although change sure to come.

    February 10, 2008 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  24. Biden Backer/Seattle

    As for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Bush said, "I certainly don't know what he believes in."

    As long as it is pretty much the opposite of you, Dubya. I'll bet Obama might even believe in The Constitution. Imagine that!

    February 10, 2008 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  25. hal

    It's pretty obvious which of the two Democratic candidates the Republicans would rather run against. Obama is drawing huge crowds to both his stump speeches and the primaries/caucuses even in red states. He could redraw the map if he were nominated. It could be like Reagan, going in the other direction.

    Clinton would just be a replay of 2000 and 2004, with a slightly better chance of the Democrats winning this time because of the high negatives of the Bush administration. Lots of people will bitterly oppose her, and they won't change their mind if she gets in.

    I also happen to suspect the third Clinton administration will be chaotic, with titanic power struggles between Bill and everyone else (VP, cabinet members, White House staff). Unlike a meddlesome chief of staff (Donald Regan during Reagan's second term, John Sununu during the first Bush's WH), Bill can't be fired, and Hillary frankly leans on him for the political judgement she still lacks. Lots of talented folks will decline cabinet opportunities (Joe Biden is one who has already said it won't work). I think this is something that lots of Washington insiders, including Bush, can see coming.

    February 10, 2008 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
1 2 3 4