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President Bush and the Men Who Would Be President


McCain hit the trail with Bush in 2004. Will Bush stump for McCain this time around? (AP).

So President Bush thinks New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is going to win the Democratic presidential nomination. But who's his choice for the Republican side?

He's not saying, of course, respecting the tradition of presidential neutrality until the nomination is settled. Even Ronald Reagan did not openly endorse his vice president in 1988 until after George H.W. Bush dispatched his competitors. And yet, the younger Bush certainly has a lot at stake in his party's standard bearer next year and must have a bit of a secret rooting interest.

Many have sifted for clues in the choices of various members of Bush World, but the president's circle has split among the candidates. Bush strategists Mark McKinnon and Terry Nelson initially went with Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) until a campaign crackup ousted Nelson. Doro Bush Koch, the president's sister, co-sponsored a fundraiser for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Vice President Cheney's daughter, Liz Cheney, and his former counselor, Mary Matalin, are with former senator Fred Thompson (Tenn.). And Bush insiders such as fundraiser Patrick Oxford and former solicitor general Theodore Olson are on board with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Bush gave a little clue to his analysis of the Republican race during his recent off-the-record lunch with television news anchors and Sunday show hosts. According to people in the room, he expressed surprise that Giuliani is still on his feet given his liberal positions on the social issues that usually drive the Republican primary electorate, such as abortion, guns and gay rights. He warned his guests not to count out McCain, whom he credited with picking himself up after the campaign spun out of control last spring.

Those who know Bush well are not certain who he might be privately cheering on. The truth is he does not have particularly close relationships with any of the men running to replace him and none of them seems all that interested in being seen as the next Bush. For obvious reasons, when they identify themselves with a past Republican president, the one they all choose is Reagan. All of which leaves Bush in an odd position, the first two-term president without a vice president running to carry on his legacy since Woodrow Wilson in 1920.

Still, there are ways to guess at Bush's attitudes toward the main Republican candidates to replace him. Here is how people in Bush's circle evaluate his attitudes:

* Giuliani. Bush admires the former New York mayor for his tough stance on terrorism and his ability to project leadership. The president was particularly struck by Giuliani's ability as a surrogate during the 2004 reelection campaign to go to very rural places not normally disposed to New Yorkers and be greeted as a hero by conservative voters. At the same time, some suspect Bush may feel a little resentment that his own performance on Sept. 11, 2001, is often compared unfavorably to that of Giuliani. Bush certainly resents that Giuliani recommended his friend, Bernard Kerik, for homeland security secretary in 2004, a nomination that quickly blew up in the president's face amid a swirl of reports about nanny problems, ethical troubles and ties to reputed mafia figures. With that experience, some associates said Bush worries whether other time bombs are waiting to explode.

* Thompson. Bush does not know the television actor particularly well and since the president's brand of politics relies heavily on his gut sense of people, he finds it hard to judge Thompson's capacity as a potential nominee. Bush certainly appreciates that Thompson is a fellow southerner in a party that needs the South to win the presidency and he admires Thompson's folksy style, which like the president's own seems more successful in less formal settings than from the lectern. At the same time, Bush did not take kindly to Thompson's harsh criticism of his immigration plan and probably wonders about the former senator's wherewithal to endure a long, harsh, national campaign.

* Romney. There are parts of Romney's record that appeal to Bush, another Republican governor who tried to work with Democrats and as leader of his state focused on achieving reform on an important domestic issue, in Romney's case health care. Romney in some ways is the most conventional Republican figure, emerging from the moneyed business community and comfortable with the New England establishment that the broader Bush family epitomizes. Still, like other Republicans, associates said Bush has been discomforted by Romney's changing stances on issues such as abortion and gay rights. And the president believes that many Christian conservatives in the party simply will never be comfortable with a Mormon candidate.

* McCain. In some ways, McCain is the most Bush-like candidate in the race, an irony lost on neither man given their savage fight for the nomination in 2000. Bush has grown to respect McCain, even if he does not personally like or trust him, and is especially grateful that the senator over the last year has become his strongest ally on the Iraq war and immigration. Bush is realistic enough to swallow the past and recognize that McCain might be the candidate who would most carry on the policies the president cares most about. Having said that, Bush is concerned that McCain may be seen as too old and too identified with an unpopular war. And in a little corner of his heart, some close to him say, it's still hard to cheer too much for the guy who beat him in New Hampshire nearly eight years ago and bedeviled him on many occasions ever since over issues such as campaign finance, taxes and detainee rules.

None of this Bush plans to say aloud and in public, aides said. Then again, he vowed back at the beginning of the year not to play "pundit-in-chief," a promise he has found hard to live with lately. "Frankly, it's difficult to not talk about the '08 election," his press secretary, Dana Perino, conceded yesterday. "There's a lot of interest in it and it does have consequence."

But even if he has left the impression in private that he doubts Republican chances of victory next year, Perino said he remains confident. "There's going to be a showdown at the OK Corral and they'll figure out who's going to be the nominee," she said. "And then from there, the president will campaign vigorously for the Republican candidate. And he believes that a Republican will be able to keep the White House."

-- Peter Baker

Posted at 10:18 AM ET on Sep 25, 2007  | Category:  Morning Cheat Sheet
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Judging by his comment, it appears that EXPAT4 is the "burbling nitwit."

Posted by: redbird1999 | September 26, 2007 8:11 AM

This may not make me popular, but with my whole conscience, I supported Bush over Kerry in 2004 and am glad he won. I am happy he has succeeded so well defending us, and say that as someone who has served in Iraq.

I am, however, uncomfortable with how far Bush's budget has spun out of control. I see Mitt Romney as the man to fix this. He is certainly the brightest candidate on the block, and I believe the most honest. I also am confident he has the greatest potential to lead productively in spite of a Democratic Congress, and also to listen to the American people.

Mitt's Mormon faith doesn't bother me one bit. It actually says a lot for his character, as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a religion that takes more than a little commitment to live by. (Faith in Christ, repentance of sins, and baptism being only the first steps. One must continue to follow Christ and serve others.)

A Yale study that I read showed Mormonism as the only Christian religion where you become more committed and faithful the more educated you are in the "real" world, and Mitt certainly has not flipped or flopped on his religion. I believe he will show people of other faiths the same respect and honor he would want for his own beliefs.

Personally, I would like him to pick an Evangelical VP. It might help him unify the Republican Party and secure the nomination! Mitt certainly deserves it.

Posted by: Jed_Merrill | September 26, 2007 3:33 AM

When I think of the Democrat Party these days I see fanatical leftists who would put the Soviets to shame. I see every type of America hater there is--a fifth column who wants to see the United States lose the War on Islamo-fascism. I see a party in thrall to union thugs, particularly those who are employed by big government and want to expand it even further inserting its malignant hand into every aspect of our lives. I see a pair of power hungry consorters with criminals--indeed the Democrat Party attracts criminals as an electro magnet attracts metal scraps. I see elitists who isolate themselves from the consequences of the policies they institute while forcing the rest of America to comply with them under penalty of law. I see a governmental system like the alimentary canal of a baby--a hungry mouth at one end (the IRS) and no sense of responsibility at the other.

That's the Democrat Party to me!

Posted by: davlevine | September 25, 2007 10:20 PM

president bush is kind to Sen.McCain because in his mind he thinks that he will win and he might but if sen. Mccain wins bush will allwas be near to him and in some way he will still have a chair in office.

Posted by: mohamedaliwadah | September 25, 2007 10:15 PM

Getting the Bush opinion is like asking the janitor about the doctorate dissertations going on next door. If he has a personal
opinion it would be subject to the vaguries of his handlers and the
effect they desire to elicit. We can get a good laugh over his choice for democrat(ic) candidate, too and review the scenario Froomkin puts forth about a nuke attack on Iran which yields yet another repub president- how sick! All this manifests in the alter ego, though, and is how adolescents conduct themselves. The candidate for the next president must have no personal vendettas nor goals for leadership in the gathering conflict. A working knowledge of constitutional law and human rights would be in order.

Posted by: bebeyond49 | September 25, 2007 9:25 PM

Forget who Bush supports in the race over who he would enjoy being nominated by the G.O.P. Now I say let's focus on the important stuff.

Newt Gingrich, is likely going to seek the Republican Nomination for President of the U.S.A. All one needs to do to believe this, is read yesterday's article in the "Washington Times" listed below.

www.washingtontimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070924/NATION/109240072/1001.

I believe Newt, when he says "Next Monday, Randy Evans, my friend and adviser since 1976, will hold a press briefing and explain how he intends to review whether it is realistic for me to consider running". I take him at his word. This is real folks.

I myself, believe Newt will almost certainly announce he will run for President after the 3 weeks he has laid out as his "review whether it is realistic for me to consider running" is announced at his PRESS CONFERENCE to be held on Monday October the 1st.

Newt is the man to watch folks. I am glad to see for the first time in this election cycle, a candidate that is Conservative and ACTUALLY HAS SOME BRAINS! Newt will thoroughly Clean Hillary Clintons clock in the debates, like ol Ronny did to both Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale in 1979 and 1983 respectively.

Posted by: g.gravitics2 | September 25, 2007 7:37 PM

MikeVA1: I think you misread the quote since it is more lazy journalism than lazy presidential commentary. I believe the writer is trying to convey that it is the Presdident's " associates " who told the Post that the " president believes that many Christian conservatives in the party simply will never be comfortable with a Mormon candidate. " (good heaven...I seem to be defending GWB... like being the devil's advocate)

Posted by: chris | September 25, 2007 5:25 PM

MikeVA1: I think you misread the quote since it is more lazy journalism than lazy presidential commentary. I believe the writer is trying to convey that it is the Presdident's " associates " who told the Post that the " president believes that many Christian conservatives in the party simply will never be comfortable with a Mormon candidate. " (good heaven...I seem to be defending GWB... like being the devil's advocate)

Posted by: chris | September 25, 2007 5:25 PM

MikeVA1: I think you misread the quote since it is more lazy journalism than lazy presidential commentary. I believe the writer is trying to convey that it is the Presdident's " associates " who told the Post that the " president believes that many Christian conservatives in the party simply will never be comfortable with a Mormon candidate. " (good heaven...I seem to be defending GWB... like being the devil's advocate)

Posted by: chris | September 25, 2007 5:25 PM

MikeVA1: I think you misread the quote since it is more lazy journalism than lazy presidential commentary. I believe the writer is trying to convey that it is the Presdident's " associates " who told the Post that the " president believes that many Christian conservatives in the party simply will never be comfortable with a Mormon candidate. " (good heaven...I seem to be defending GWB... like being the devil's advocate)

Posted by: chris | September 25, 2007 5:25 PM

MikeVA1: I think you misread the quote since it is more lazy journalism than lazy presidential commentary. I believe the writer is trying to convey that it is the Presdident's " associates " who told the Post that the " president believes that many Christian conservatives in the party simply will never be comfortable with a Mormon candidate. " (good heaven...I seem to be defending GWB... like being the devil's advocate)

Posted by: chris | September 25, 2007 5:25 PM

MikeVA1: I think you misread the quote since it is more lazy journalism than lazy presidential commentary. I believe the writer is trying to convey that it is the Presdident's " associates " who told the Post that the " president believes that many Christian conservatives in the party simply will never be comfortable with a Mormon candidate. " (good heaven...I'm defending GWB... like being the devil's advocate)

Posted by: chris | September 25, 2007 5:25 PM

--Snip--
And the president believes that many Christian conservatives in the party simply will never be comfortable with a Mormon candidate.
--Snip--

This comment by the President of the US is very inappropriate. It is his job to lead opinion and temper his comments with wisdom. As a Methodist and as a believer in the design of Thomas Jefferson, this is an unbelievablly lazy comment by the president. Did Bush really say this without any additional comment?

Posted by: mikeVA1 | September 25, 2007 2:55 PM

When I think of the Republican party these days, I envision a tired old elephant, mired up to its tusks in a bog of lies, mis-statements, greed, corruption, perversion and failure. And sitting on top of the poor, dying creature is a burbling nitwit.

Posted by: EXPAT4 | September 25, 2007 12:45 PM

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