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George Bush holds forth on John McCain

March 5, 2008 | 12:06 pm

Even as Hillary Clinton dangles the prospect of having Barack Obama on her ticket (a scenario he and his aides rightfully find a bit presumptuous at this point), President Bush cut to the chase of such speculation today.

Joining John McCain outside the White House to answer press questions on a sunny (albeit breezy) late winter afternoon, Bush was asked about how McCain, now that he has pinned down the Republican presidential nomination, should go about picking a running mate.

"People don't vote for vice presidents," said a smiling Bush, pointing toward the Oval Office to emphasize his point that it's the top of the ticket that matters.

There also was a revealing moment when Bush was asked about the emphasis on "change" that has pervaded the '08 campaign season. Again cutting to the core of the matter, he said that "every candidate" not running as an incumbent has to embrace that message; he noted that in 2000, he depicted himself as "an agent of change."

But then Bush provided his most telling comment, one that underscored why he exuded good spirits as he stood next to McCain. Referring to his onetime rival for supremacy within the GOP, the president said, "He's not going to change when it comes to taking on the enemy."

Indeed, despite their past battles, McCain long ago emerged as the one Republican in this year's race most willing to embrace Bush's view of the terrorist threat and the need to hang tough in Iraq. The president's remark hinted at the vindication he must feel over McCain's triumph.

The two men met reporters ...

after having lunch and, as they settled in before the microphones, exchanged a hearty handshake (no hugs and, as we predicted, no little kiss from Bush).

Physically, the president might have been more restrained than in the past, but in his remarks Bush was effusive in his praise of McCain. He touted the Arizona senator as a man of "incredible courage, strength of character and perseverance." He also said McCain possessed "a heart big enough" to help those "who hurt."

McCain for the most part deferred to the president, though at least once he picked the reporter who could ask the next question.

Bush also had a little fun on the question of choosing a vice presidential nominee, saying McCain should "be careful who he names to be head of the selection committee."

That, of course, was a reference to Dick Cheney, who filled that role for Bush eight years ago and ended up being tapped by him for the second spot (and proceeded to become one of the administration's most controversial figures).

-- Don Frederick