Bush Calls McCain a 'True Conservative'
By Zachary A. Goldfarb
President Bush today defended Sen. John McCain's conservative credentials against critics within the Republican Party, calling the Arizona senator a "true conservative."
In his most expansive comments yet on the 2008 presidential election, Bush said on "Fox News Sunday" that McCain is strong on national defense and taxes and is pro-life. "His principles are sound and solid, as far as I'm concerned," the president said.
But Bush acknowledged that McCain has "some convincing to do to convince people that he is a solid conservative." The president added, "I'll be glad to help him," should McCain win the GOP nomination.
With former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) still in the Republican race, Bush avoided endorsing any nominee. But he repeatedly took to the defense of McCain, whose string of victories last Tuesday has given him a commanding lead.
Asked about the stern opposition among the conservative wing of the GOP toward McCain, over his positions on campaign finance, immigration and other issues, Bush replied, "You can't please all the people all the time."
As for Huckabee, who said the White House had an "arrogant bunker mentality" in its foreign policy, Bush said: "I'm sure that you can find quotes from people running for office that sound like they're at odds with me. ... What really matters in a campaign [is] what are the basic beliefs."
Bush also addressed the Democratic candidates, saying that if Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) focus on his tenure, "I think they'll be making a huge tactical mistake."
Of Obama, the president said, "I certainly don't know what he believes in."
While McCain is well ahead in GOP polls of Maryland and Virginia, which vote Tuesday along with the District of Columbia, Huckabee made up a little ground yesterday, beating McCain in Louisiana and Kansas voting. According to wire service projections, McCain narrowly beat Huckabee and Paul in Washington state.
On NBC's "Meet the Press," host Tim Russert underscored the difficulty of Huckabee's challenge: Even if Huckabee won all the remaining primaries, he could not add enough delegates to clinch the nomination before the GOP national convention.
"I don't know how the math works out, but there's always a chance something [sic] stumbles," Huckabee replied. "The thing is, it's not just how many I need. Senator McCain also needs that many. If he doesn't get that many, this thing could go to the convention."
Huckabee would not concede a loss in Washington state, saying his campaign is investigating "legal issues" there because of the closeness of the vote.
Huckabee was most explicit in describing his own chances, should he not win the nomination, of getting the No. 2 spot on the GOP ticket.
"I'm not going to be asked," Huckabee declared. "I think it's pretty evident there would be a whole lot of people ... before me, and one of them would say yes."
But if he were asked, Huckabee said, "Nobody turns it down that I know of."
Karl Rove, Bush's former senior political adviser, did his best to shoot down Huckabee's chances. Rove said on CBS's "Face the Nation" that it was far-fetched to presume that McCain would say something or do something to doom his candidacy.
Huckabee "said he could win, provided that there were mistakes made by his opponent, and that some of these bound or pledged delegates would change their mind. Well, even if they change their mind, they're bound or pledged to vote for the candidate who won their primary," Rove said. "I find it very unlikely, completely implausible that Governor Huckabee could win 83 percent of the delegates."
As Bush's adviser, Rove ran a brutal campaign against McCain as Bush and McCain dueled for the GOP nomination in 2000. But this week Rove donated money to the senator's campaign.
Like his former boss, Colin Powell, the former secretary of state and retired general, declined to endorse any candidate. "I am not in the endorsement business right now," Powell said on CNN's "Late Edition."
Powell said he is still a Republican, but he had kind words for Obama: "He has energized a lot of people in America. He has energized a lot of people around the world. And so I think he is worth listening to and seeing what he stands for. There are some positions he has that I wouldn't support, but that's the case with every candidate out there."
Powell said he wants to see elected a candidate with "the kind of vision ... that reaches out to the rest of the world, that starts to restore confidence in America, that starts to restore favorable ratings to America. Frankly, we lost a lot in recent years. I am going to be looking for the candidate that seems to me to be leading a party that is fully in sync with the candidate and a party that will also reflect America's goodness and America's vision."
Bush, Pelosi Steer Clear of 'Recession' Label
Amid questions about the nation's economy, Bush was asked whether the United States has begun a recession. The president said he does not yet think so, but "the signs are troubling enough that we all came together and got a robust [stimulus] package out." Going forward, he said, "We just have to play it by ear."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would not go that far, either. "Whether it is technically a recession or not, in these homes in America, people are struggling and it feels like a recession. We need to do something about it," she said on CNN.
The Legacy Thing
Bush derided as "shallow psychobabble" the notion that he is trying to carve a distinct legacy from that of his father. When he hears people trying to assess his historical legacy, he said, "I take great comfort in knowing that they don't know what they are talking about, because history takes a long time for us to reach."
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