HOUSTON – John McCain picked up former President George H.W. Bush’s support on Monday, a critical blessing by a pillar of the Republican establishment whose members aren’t completely sold on the party’s next standard-bearer.
“Few men walking among us have sacrificed so much in the cause of human freedom. And I’m happy to help this remarkable patriot carry our party banner forward,” Bush said, standing alongside the GOP’s nominee-in-waiting in an airport hangar.
In endorsing McCain, the patriarch of the Republican political dynasty sent a strong message to a party base wary of the Arizona senator because of his reputation for bucking the GOP on several high-profile issues. The elder Bush also signaled to a vast network of Bush family activists and fundraisers that they, too, should swing behind the eventual nominee.
McCain said he was deeply honored by Bush’s support. “I think that our effort to continue to unite the party will be enhanced dramatically by President Bush’s words,” he added.
Since effectively sealing the nomination when chief rival Mitt Romney dropped out, McCain has been working to convince the party’s fickle and influential conservative base to get behind his candidacy.
President Bush, for his part, has spoken warmly of McCain, calling him a “true conservative.” But he also has said McCain might have to work harder to win over the GOP’s more conservative wing.
His father’s endorsement, which follows one from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the president’s brother, is a further nudge by GOP chieftains for conservative activists to get over their distaste for McCain – and for rival Mike Huckabee to exit the race.
Without mentioning McCain’s chief rival by name, the elder Bush suggested he wasn’t sending a signal to Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor. “I had not come here to tell any other candidate what to do,” Bush said.