(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)