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Bush role in McCain campaign to fade away

But the president is still trying to unite the Republican Party.

By Staff writer / September 3, 2008

Second day: President Bush addressed delegates via satellite Tuesday at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. He said he doubted ‘the angry left’ would be able to ‘break’ John McCain.

Mary Knox Merrill/Staff


President Bush’s appearance before the Republican National Convention was huge – literally. His visage beamed from screens as big as Winnebagos when he addressed delegates at the Xcel Energy Center via video from the White House on Sept. 2.
But it’s likely that Mr. Bush’s role in the GOP effort to elect John McCain as his successor will only shrink as late summer turns into fall.

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In part that’s because of the two men’s personal history. Senator McCain long resented the tactics Bush used against him in the 2000 primaries. McCain’s advisers are eager to distance their candidate from some of an unpopular incumbent’s policies.
It’s also a reflection of the nature of US politics. For generations, presidential candidates from both parties have struggled to establish their own identities in the shadow of term-limited predecessors.

Remember 2000? Al Gore wanted to establish himself as more than Bill Clinton’s vice president, and so he didn’t use Mr. Clinton on the campaign trail as much as he could have, says Stephen Hess, senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington.

“It was a great mistake,” says Mr. Hess.

In some ways, the proceedings at the GOP confab here have presented a fascinating look at a triangle of political rivalry and reconciliation.

That’s right – triangle. On Sept. 2, the President Bush who was present physically in the hall – and whose story received more attention than his son’s, if measured by allotted time – was George Herbert Walker Bush, the current US chief executive’s father.

Bush the elder and Bush the younger have not always seen eye to eye. If nothing else, the elder Bush reportedly has expressed some reservations about some of his son’s policies, particularly in regard to Iraq.

But Bush 41 has also choked up when talking about what he perceives as unfair criticism of Bush 43, and the moment on Tuesday night must have been one full of familial pride, even to a pair of self-professed unreflective males.

After all, someone named “Bush” has been president or vice president of the United States for 20 of the past 28 years.

Then there’s the sometimes strained relationship between the current president and his possible successor as the GOP’s titular head.

Whatever personal tensions exist between President Bush and John McCain, the political peril for McCain is obvious. Democrats will do their best to tie the Arizona senator to a president with historically low approval ratings.