May 27 (Bloomberg) — John McCain’s challenge in winning the presidency isn’t unique. George H.W. Bush in 1988 and Al Gore in 2000 also struggled to chisel an identity separate from a two- term incumbent president of their party.
There’s one big difference: in 1988, Ronald Reagan had a 51 percent approval rating, according to Gallup surveys, and in 2000 Bill Clinton’s was 57 percent. Today, President George W. Bush’s rating is 28 percent and the leading House Republican political analyst, Virginia Representative Tom Davis, said the president is “absolutely radioactive” for party candidates, including McCain, the presumptive presidential nominee.
So why is the Arizona senator going to appear with Bush in Phoenix tonight for a closed-door fundraiser? McCain, whose fundraising totals are dwarfed by those of Democratic candidate Barack Obama, needs Bush to bring in money and signal to conservative Republicans that he can be trusted.
“Any sitting president, even one whose approval rating is in the low 30s, can raise money,” said Jim Pinkerton, a Republican strategist. “McCain has to distance himself from Bush, but he also has to reassure the Republican base — and that means snuggling up.”
Well, no problem there!
McCain, who has long been viewed with suspicion by his party’s conservative base, “needs to pay penance” for setting himself apart from Bush, said Pinkerton, who worked on the first President Bush’s strategy to distinguish his record from Reagan’s.
The two last appeared together March 5, when Bush endorsed McCain at the White House.
Since then, McCain has accelerated his push to underscore differences with Bush on policies ranging from foreign affairs to climate change.
On most other issues, though, McCain says he will carry on Bush’s legacy, vowing to extend the president’s tax cuts, keep troops in Iraq and offer private accounts as a component of Social Security overhaul.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who lost the party nomination to McCain, now attests to his former rival’s anti-Bush credentials.
“The mutual dislike between McCain and President Bush has been tabled, for Bush’s legacy desperately needs the GOP to win the White House,” [Scott] Reed [who managed the 1996 campaign of Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole] said.
Strategists said the administration should follow a basic rule if it wants to bequeath the Oval Office to its party’s nominee: Don’t blindside the campaign.
Clean lines of communication will help the White House and the McCain campaign smooth over any public breaches. Two of McCain’s top five advisers — Charlie Black, and Steve Schmidt — worked on Bush’s 2004 re-election. Nicolle Wallace, the communications director in that campaign, signed up with McCain last month.
“We coordinate with the McCain campaign all the time,” said White House Press Secretary Dana Perino.
His advisors are from the Chimpy 2004 campaign, and the White House coordinates with Captain Underpants all the time, but he is distancing himself from Chimpy? Am I missing something, kids?