Did George Bush tell a visiting delegation from the UK that he wouldn’t vote for John McCain and would have endorsed Barack Obama if asked? The Financial Times says yes:
The venue was the Oval Office. A group of British dignitaries, including Gordon Brown, were paying a visit. It was at the height of the 2008 presidential election campaign, not long after Bush publicly endorsed John McCain as his successor.
Naturally the election came up in conversation. Trying to be even-handed and polite, the Brits said something diplomatic about McCain’s campaign, expecting Bush to express some warm words of support for the Republican candidate.
Not a chance. “I probably won’t even vote for the guy,” Bush told the group, according to two people present.“I had to endorse him. But I’d have endorsed Obama if they’d asked me.”
Endorse Obama? Cue dumbfounded look from British officials, followed by some awkward remarks about the Washington weather. Even Gordon Brown’s poker face gave way to a flash of astonishment.
George Bush calls the report “ridiculous and untrue“:
Former President George W. Bush is denying a report that he once said he would have endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 if the Democrat had asked.
“This is ridiculous and untrue,” Bush spokesman David Sherzer told POLITICO. “President Bush proudly supported John McCain in the election and voted for him.”
Bush’s new book Decision Points discusses his disappointment with McCain’s attempt to distance himself from the administration, but mainly because it put Bush in a position where it was impossible to help the Republican nominee:
Some of the anecdotes about McCain’s presidential campaign in Bush’s new book are not particularly flattering, but the former president at no point writes that he would have endorsed Obama.
“I understood he had to establish his independence,” Bush writes of McCain’s candidacy. “I thought it looked defensive for John to distance himself from me. I was confident I could have helped him make his case. But the decision was his. I was disappointed I couldn’t do more to help him.”
Alex Barker at the FT reported as fact that “Bush is far from kind to McCain,” even though in the very next sentence he writes that he has yet to see a copy of the book for himself. He also manages to get the antagonism between the two men correct in his reference to the 2000 primary in South Carolina that got infamously nasty and personal. But it wasn’t Bush that got angry with McCain — it was McCain who got angry with Bush, enough to play a little footsie with John Kerry in 2004 before endorsing and campaigning for Bush in his successful re-election campaign. McCain also backed Bush on Iraq and especially the surge strategy in 2007 and 2008, which somehow undercuts the whole “enmity” spin on this anecdote as well.
Besides which, did Barker really expect people to believe that Bush got so angry about McCain’s attempts to distance himself from Bush on spending that he’d have endorsed a candidate that routinely demonized him on the campaign trail? In fact, the entire Democratic Party made Bush and Dick Cheney their boogeymen for the entire campaign, a strategy that worked as well in 2008 as it failed miserably in 2010.
“Ridiculous” is the right word for it; “absurd” is perhaps a bit better. Barker noted that the FT couldn’t publish the anecdote at the time for “various reasons,” among which is that it’s laughable on its face.