Press Makes Much of Bush-McCain Tensions

July 7, 2008 - 8:25 PM

( - John McCain's supporters accuse George W Bush of "macho talk" that has set back efforts to reconcile the Republican frontrunner and his main primary-season rival. The flap stems from a recent interview Bush gave The New York Times.

Among other things, the newspaper asked Bush about Arizona Sen. John McCain producing record turnouts in the primaries. "Well, then, how come he didn't win?" Bush responded. Asked whether McCain had raised his consciousness about reform, Bush replied, "No, he didn't change my views." Bush also said he would not make concessions to McCain on campaign finance reform.

Trying to make amends after the newspaper published the interview Wednesday, Bush campaign manager Joe Allbaugh reportedly called McCain's top political adviser to say he regretted that the newspaper story didn't include more of the nice things Bush said about McCain.

Allbaugh reportedly promised that Bush would go out of his way in the future to say nice things about McCain to reporters, and Bush did point to areas of agreement between them in various campaign stops Thursday. "I'm confident we can work together," he said.

At a news conference Thursday in Springfield, Illinois, Bush said the "story out today ... doesn't characterize how I feel." He pointed to an interview on the front page of The Dallas Morning News that quotes Bush as saying he wants to mend fences with John McCain. "That's how I feel," he said.

McCain's advisers reportedly were stunned that Bush, in his New York Times interview, would be so dismissive of McCain while his aides are quietly seeking McCain's endorsement.

According to wire services, a senior McCain adviser said a quick resolution to the feud is now out of the question. He put the odds of McCain endorsing Bush before the election at "no better than 50-50."

Another adviser said it was now probable that McCain would never directly endorse Bush himself, though he could still back the ticket late in the campaign.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican who co-chaired McCain's campaign, told The New York Times, "I don't think it enhances the bridge-building that needs to be done here. That was a pretty arrogant interview and it doesn't help what we're all trying to do here."

Vice President Al Gore also jumped into the act Thursday, saying Bush "should have been taking notes from John McCain" on campaign finance reform and tax policy.

McCain, who "suspended" his presidential campaign after the Super Tuesday primaries, is on vacation and unavailable for comment. He returns to Washington Monday.

In the meantime, there's plenty of mileage to be made among Democrats and their supporters by perpetuating the notion of a divided Republican party.