In Backing Bush, McCain Mends Fences for 2004

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Even if John McCain hadn't taken himself out of the vice-presidential running for the twenty-seventh time on Tuesday, it was obvious that he and George W. Bush do not make a natural ticket. The pair looked like strange bedfellows indeed at their post-summit press conference in Pittsburgh Tuesday, visibly awkward as they stood at a double-wide podium and passed the spotlight back and forth in front of reporters. But all the things that needed to be said, got said. A lot. "I endorse Governor Bush, I endorse Governor Bush, I endorse Governor Bush, I endorse Governor Bush, I endorse Governor Bush, I endorse Governor Bush," surrendered McCain in a wry singsong after a quote-seeking reporter made him use the E-word. "And I enthusiastically accept," said an overshadowed Bush from over McCain's shoulder, a little too loudly, maybe making a mental note to be a little more McCain-like with these reporter types from now on. Bush had brought along his cowboy grin, but it had a forced quality; he seemed painfully aware that this was McCain's show.

And it was. By backing Bush — and especially the other Republicans who need the so-called McCain voters to prevail in November — the man who still totes around 23 percent of the vote can start to curry party favors with the Republican kingmakers. And then make an "I told you so" case for 2004 if Gore wins in November. So he was careful to keep a certain distance; he ruled out being anybody's veep and joked about being Bush's "Secretary of Reform," a position he'll now fill in the Senate, on the trail and in front of the cameras with new and improved clout from now until at least November. Meanwhile, Bush didn't have much to do except stand there and remind everybody that the two have honest and manly beefs but "a lot more agreements than disagreements." He also paid a couple of obligatory compliments, calling McCain a "friend" and a "good man" and saying, "I look forward to working with him." Just don't count on it being too often.