Can Bush-McCain Summit Look Like a Love-In?

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This spring's knock-down, drag-out, sticks-and-stones primary between George W. Bush and John McCain had to be the most high-profile, rancorous and riveting GOP battle in most party elephants' memory. Now it's Big Tent time, with the first of several planned grip-and-grin summits between the anointed and the heretic going down Tuesday in Pittsburgh. How do these two make it convincing? "They'll start by heaping praise on one another for the press, and will genially agree to disagree on whatever they have to," says TIME Washington correspondent James Carney. "McCain will take every opportunity to call Bush's proposals 'reform,' starting with the partial privatization of Social Security, and will make it clear that he thinks Bush would make a superior president to Gore."

Bush needs the elusive "McCain voter" — the same ones W. was decrying as nefarious Democrat poachers during the primaries — to beat Gore. McCain is looking to get back into the Republican church. That's why he'll not only come out for Bush but will also be seen hitting the stumps all summer in support of GOP House and Senate candidates who could use some of that Straight Talk magic for their own crossover yearnings. "He needs to show he's got chits in the party," says Carney, if he wants to increase his leverage in the Senate — or run for the nomination again, Reagan-style, in 2004 as the one man who can wrest the country from a 12-year Clinton-Gore habit. A minor possible conflict of interest that'll explain a lot if these summits aren't completely, well, convincing.