Was George W. Bush Willing to Endorse Barack Obama?

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Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

He called himself The Decider, but as former president George W. Bush emerges from his self-imposed exile to promote his new book, he's become The Denier. Specifically, he's been busy denying rumors about his contempt for John McCain. On Friday, the Daily News quoted a "Republican official familiar with Bush's thinking" who claimed that Bush thought McCain "destroyed any chance of winning by picking Palin" and was "less of a man" for doing so. He wouldn't be the first one to think that, but on Rush Limbaugh's radio show yesterday, Bush insisted, "I never said that, never would have said that."

Yesterday, an even more intriguing story appeared on a blog of the Financial Times. Alex Barker writes of his "favourite Bush anecdote," which "some of the witnesses still dine out on":


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.”

Now, Bush not voting for McCain and giving him a forced endorsement, sure, we can buy that. The two never had a great relationship following their bitter primary battle in 2000, and in Decision Points, Bush laments that McCain kept his distance in the 2008 campaign. He also writes that McCain was unimpressive in their meeting during the financial crisis.

But endorsing Obama? Come on. That never would have happened, ever, even if Bush secretly wished it could have, which is somewhat more plausible. (A Bush spokesman says, "This is ridiculous and untrue. President Bush proudly supported John McCain in the election and voted for him.”) Maybe the Brits, with their unique comedic sensibilities, just didn't grasp that Bush was joking. Or, maybe this story has been exaggerated over time. British cocktail-party gossip isn't exactly the most reliable source in the world.

Bush: “I probably won’t even vote for McCain” [Westminster/FT]
Bush camp attacks 'ridiculous' story [Politico]