When Arizona Sen. John S. McCain endorsed Texas Gov. George W. Bush last week, the tension and distaste between the two former rivals was palpable. Through bitter, back-and-forth rounds of primaries and personal attacks, Bush and McCain developed a great deal of animosity towards each other. At this point, both politicians feel that burying the hatchet would be in their best interests. McCain hopes to repair his tattered reputation inside the Republican Party, and Bush knows that he needs moderate McCain supporters to win the general election.
However, McCain's supporters should not flock to the governor unless he adopts the pieces of McCain's platform that were so attractive to the electorate. McCain's campaign finance reform package was perhaps his most appealing attribute. He promised to clean up the corrupt election system and root out the special interests. Bush depends on wealthy, well-connected supporters to a huge extent, clearly shown by his immense early fundraising advantage. In order to attract McCain's supporters, he should show some of McCain's courage and propose a strong and comprehensive plan of campaign finance reform that may not endear him to his wealthy donors.
By the same token, people who were impressed that McCain considered shoring up Social Security and Medicare to be an important conservative priority will find little to love in Bush's domestic agenda. Instead of protecting these essential obligations, Bush threatens to use a huge chunk of the projected surplus on a tax cut.
It was clearly not easy for McCain to endorse Bush; the senator did not use that word until prompted by a reporter after his speech. He openly compared the experience to taking a dose of medicine, and asked that he not be considered for the vice-presidential nomination. While McCain stated that he agrees with Bush on many issues, including education, health care and the military, it was painfully obvious that they still differ substantially on the issues about which McCain is most passionate.
The theme that resonated with voters was McCain's promise of government reform. McCain sensed a disillusionment of the American people with the political process. He tapped that current by offering an alternative to the elite's picked candidates. Unless Bush makes a credible commitment to campaign finance reform and the other reform causes that McCain championed, his "reformer with results" label will ring hollow. Even though Bush has gained McCain's endorsement, he will have to work harder to earn the endorsement of McCain's supporters.
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