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. Allan Camden, SC

    Maybe if he doesn't know what Obama believes in, he should try reading Obama's books. It is pretty clear.

    Go Obama!!

    February 10, 2008 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  2. Joeseph

    Republicans I think are going to fear Obama a bit – because in polls it shows he beats McCain and because he's so young and inspirational. Whereas Hillary they know they can play ball with – and beat. Even Bill Clinton if it wasn't for Perot would have lost, people seem to forget that.

    February 10, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  3. Florian

    What kind of Comment is that on Obama? "I certainly don't know what he believes in"
    I mean,....we all know he might not be the brightest, but I you are the President of the United States of America and you talk about someone who has the ambition of becoming US President, then you either say nothing or something with content, but NOT that you don't know what he believes in. At least say something like "I know he believes in God" but not know what someone believes in, that person going for a presidential nomination thats just stupid!

    February 10, 2008 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  4. Sabrina

    I think that bush is being unfair when he says that he deos not know what Mr. Obama believe. I do know that the people know and understand what M. O

    February 10, 2008 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  5. Sparkle

    Who cares what this proven IDIOT has to say about ANYTHING? This is not news...

    February 10, 2008 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  6. Me

    Speculation of a Clinton/Obama ticket would make for an unbeatable tandem in November. How can that be countered by the Republicans – how about McCain and Powell?

    February 10, 2008 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  7. heather

    and why on Earth would anyone care what this idiot has to say about his successor? They have (whoever it is) a whole lot of work to clean up after this idiot has been in office for two terms!!!

    February 10, 2008 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  8. Rick

    I have to applaud President Bush for his support of former President Bill Clinton in the matter of him not being a racist. Bill was just defending and campaigning for his wife. And I would have to agree with President Bush statement of not knowing what Omaba believes in. I am a Democrat and when I agree with a Republican on a issue that 's pretty serious. So the rest of the so called Democrats that think Bill Clinton is a racist need to put aside their racist attitude and really think about what was said and not play the race card just so Afriican-Americans will vote for Obama. That is pathetic.

    February 10, 2008 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  9. d

    For the life of me, I can only wonder WHY these people are supporting McCain. He is NOT the conservative that I want in the White House. I find it shocking with our dire straights in the economy, that this man knows absolutely NOTHING about economics. IF he were to win the Presidential Election, our country will be further into debt, while his war mongering goes on and on and on. I support the Troops full heartily, but there must be someone else to enter this race who is more in tune with what this Nation faces as a whole. I will NEVER vote for this man they call a "conservative", McCain.

    February 10, 2008 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  10. Emma

    "I certainly don't know what he believes in."

    not you, bush.

    February 10, 2008 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  11. Debra

    I am not sure this is the correct place to communicate this but found no "contact us" icon on CNN. I have watched CNN for many years as I believed it was the most neutral reporting news station on TV. I am very dissappointed in your covferage of this election process and specifically coverage of the Democrats. Neither Lou Dobbs or Jack Cafferty are neutral! If anything they are clearly biased whether it be against all candidates or more obviously Hillary Clinton. In addition your general coverage of the primaries and caucases have given one candidate a great deal of free positive publicity and another only negative. I am talking about your comments on Obama and Clinton, respectively. What ever happened to unbiased news casting? When did CNN get to the point of allowing political analysts and reporters to air the facts in such a slanted way? I for one will no longer be following this race on CNN and am very sorry to see what has happened so far with your coverage.


    February 10, 2008 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  12. Kyle

    Thanks Bush, you are the most truthful, honest, world leader....in the WORLD!


    February 10, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  13. Russ

    It sounds to me like the Bush administration and his republican consorts are scared to death of Barack Obama. If Bush "certainly does not know what Obama stands for" he is either not paying attention, is incoherent, or is so scared of the change Sen. Obama is proposing that he is actually defending the Clintons (Or "D": All of the above.). Wow...that's one person's "endorsement" I sure as hell wouldn't want. To me its just more proof that Hillary would be more of the same old Washington...

    Hey W...Obama's for reinvesting in the American instead of Haliburton.

    February 10, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  14. Anonymous

    Maybe if Bush had a brain and knew how to listen and comprhend he would know what Barack Obama believes in.

    February 10, 2008 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  15. Hillaryismychoice

    I agreed with Bush's on this. He made a good judgement. Obama just all talk, no substance.

    February 10, 2008 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  16. Robert Dedrick

    who honestly cares what Bush thinks?

    February 10, 2008 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  17. Whuzi

    Umm...I think everyone knows Clinton is not a racist. Thanks for stating the obvious President Bush.

    People were just offended by a few things he said, but nobody took it to the level of actually being "racism".

    February 10, 2008 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  18. mike

    see? afraid of Obama. Clear as day.

    February 10, 2008 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  19. Matt

    Could there be any political motives involved in Bush saying:

    -McCain is a true conservative
    -Clintion is not a racist
    -I dont know what Obama stands for

    These guys are the masters of manipulation, and its going to be nice to have a campaign that has at least the potential for less of this manipulative nonsense.

    February 10, 2008 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  20. Jan, Evergreen, CO

    Bush doesn't have the credibility to speak out for my dog, much less anyone running for President.

    February 10, 2008 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  21. Denicia

    I love this comment Bush made about Senator Barack Obama: "I certainly don't know what he believes in."

    Here's why...

    Senator Obama has spoken numerous times. If I'm able to figure out what he believes in, you'd think the President of the United States would be able to figure it out as well. I would've respected his response more had he said he disagrees with his position on certain issues. Instead, he chose to display his usual arrogant and cocky self and not take the time to listen. As always, it's his way or no way (even if you don't reside in America). When someone is so different from yourself & what you believe in, you usually don't understand them. That's what I want in 2008...a president far from what we have today.

    Obama for President!!!

    February 10, 2008 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  22. Hillaryismychoice

    Bush is right. Bill is not a racist. Stopped using race to gain the eclection. who cries racist is the person who are racist themself.

    February 10, 2008 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  23. Texas

    I certainly don't either!
    Who is stupid enough to vote for obama..oh yes dumb college kids that probably still live with thier parents and still have not faced the world and the issues that demand a great leader not a dreamer.

    Go Hillary!

    February 10, 2008 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  24. paulson

    this applies to all. It is my dearest wish that the news media would stay out of politics. There should be no information given out on the primaries until they are completed in all states. Let the media report news and not second guess politics.Candidates should be on tv and say what they stand for and state their goal and nobarbs to each other. they are getting more like the U>S> senate and congress...........fighting more then they produce.

    February 10, 2008 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  25. Tim

    I can't believe I can actually thank this President for something. But thank you for your statements about President and Mrs. Clinton. And for your comments about Mr. Obama. For once you are right!

    February 10, 2008 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
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