In a press conference in the White House Rose Garden Wednesday, President George W. Bush was supposed to pass the baton, after a fashion, to presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain. But instead Bush looked very much like a man not quite ready to give up that baton and its attendant spotlight; on more than one occasion, he interrupted McCain, who could only stand and look awkward.
But Bush did manage to deliver his endorsement to McCain. "It's been my honor to welcome my friend John McCain as the nominee of the Republican Party," Bush said. "John showed incredible courage and strength of character and perseverance in order to get to this moment. And that's exactly what we need in a president: Somebody who can handle the tough decisions, somebody who won't flinch in the face of danger ... He's going to be the president who will bring determination to defeat an enemy and a heart big enough to love those who hurt."
In thanking Bush for the endorsement, McCain was similarly full of praise. "I'm very honored and humbled to have the opportunity to receive the endorsement of the president of the United States, a man who [sic] I have great admiration, respect and affection," McCain said. "I appreciate his endorsement. I appreciate his service to our country. I intend to have as much possible (sic) campaigning events and -- together, in keeping with the president's heavy schedule. And I look forward to that opportunity ... I hope that the president will find time from his busy schedule to be out on the campaign trail with me."
Things broke down a bit when it came time for questions from the press, as an animated Bush barely let McCain get a word in edgewise.
That was especially true for the last question of the press conference, when one reporter asked Bush where his campaigning on McCain's behalf might be most helpful to the Republican nominee. Bush made a few brief remarks, and McCain tried to answer the question, but Bush interrupted and went off on a rant, gesticulating enthusiastically as McCain stood off to the side. "I'm focusing on, you know, protecting America and succeeding in Iraq and dealing with the North Korean [sic] and dealing with the Iranian [sic] and dealing with the issues around the world where we're making a difference in terms of keeping peace," Bush said. "I want to get this as good a position as possible so that when John McCain's the president -- and he will be -- he can deal with these issues in a way that yields peace." McCain broke in, saying, "Could I say, one state springs to mind? Texas," and then Bush jumped right back in. At the end of a couple of more responses, as McCain appeared to be pausing, Bush abruptly brought the press conference to an end.
Bush focused many of his remarks on McCain's "determination," especially in the war on terror, speaking often about the looming enemy and McCain's fitness for the presidency because of his understanding of the threat. "John McCain will find out when he takes the oath of office his most important responsibility is to protect the American people from harm. And there's still an enemy that lurks, an enemy that wants to strike us. And this country better have somebody in that Oval Office who understands the stakes. And John McCain understands those stakes." (For the record, the oath of office taken by the president has no references to protecting the American people -- the only thing the president is sworn to protect is the Constitution.)