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Jewish World Review May 12, 2000 / 7 Iyar, 5760

Roger Simon

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Consumer Reports


No Bush bear-hugs
for John Skywalker -- PITTSBURGH -- John McCain got to George W. Bush's hotel suite two minutes early. It was a sign of respect, of politeness. You don't keep the winner waiting.

Bush greeted him and extended a hand, but was careful not to give him a Texas bear hug.

He had done that to McCain at one of their early debates in New Hampshire and McCain had recoiled. McCain doesn't like that kind of social, phony, touchy-feely stuff.

McCain shook Bush's hand. It was 7:58 a.m., and McCain started looking around for what he always looks around for at 7:58 a.m.

"Where are the donuts?" McCain asked.

Bush looked stricken. There were pastries in the room and coffee, but no donuts.

"We'll get some!" Bush said, as his staff started to scramble.

McCain smiled to indicate he had just been kidding. "No, I already had some," he said, which was the truth. Before he left his own hotel suite, he had snarfed down a few.

There was a loveseat in the suite, but the two men did not use it. They sat down in armchairs, instead.

Their staffs filed out, leaving the two men alone in the room.

This was a meeting, requested by Bush, that was supposed to work out whatever differences the two Republican primary foes had between them or lay a groundwork for future cooperation or whatever.

What the meeting was really supposed to do was put an end to the McCain campaign.

Even though he suspended his campaign nine weeks ago, McCain has been getting enormous press attention. When he returned to Vietnam (for the eighth time) a few weeks ago, NBC paid for his trip and six U.S. news organizations sent reporters with him.

When he had a book signing in Pittsburgh the night before his meeting with Bush, hundreds of people stood in line for hours and McCain attracted nine camera crews, about two dozen reporters and the local news stations went live from the bookstore.

Now, in a ballroom downstairs from where he was meeting with Bush, more than 100 journalist and 20 camera crews were gathered in anticipation of their joint press conference.

McCain had flown to Pittsburgh with no intention of endorsing Bush. He has not forgiven Bush for playing the race card against him in South Carolina (and Bush has not forgiven McCain for playing the anti-Catholic card against him in Michigan). Nor does he believe that Bush is really a candidate committed to reform.

But after the book signing, McCain began asking himself how long he could refrain from endorsing the nominee of his own party. Even though recent polls show that McCain would get an impressive 23 percent of the vote if he ran as an independent, McCain has no intention of bolting the Republican Party.

What he would rather do is run again in 2004, should Bush lose to Al Gore in November. But that means he once again would have to run for the Republican nomination, and in order to do that he will have to demonstrate he is a loyal Republican.

So at the end of a dinner with reporters the night before he met with Bush, McCain pushed back from the table and said: "I'm never going to put you all through this again. I promise."

Which was the sign that he had made up his mind to endorse Bush. McCain didn't want another media dog-and-pony show. He didn't want to go through the support charade again.

Was McCain's endorsement -- a word he used reluctantly -- of Bush sincere? That is a question not asked in politics. It was an endorsement, and that was enough.

It didn't cost Bush much to get it: He will have to give McCain a prominent speech at the Republican Convention. He will not have to make McCain his vice president -- McCain doesn't want it -- and he will not have to adopt McCain's reform agenda.

But what did McCain get for his endorsement besides the convention speech?

The goodwill of his fellow Republicans. Which could come in handy four years from now.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate