George W. Bush’s bombastic return to the world stage has reminded me of my favourite Bush anecdote, which for various reasons we couldn’t publish at the time. Some of the witnesses still dine out on it.
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.”
Endorse Obama? Cue dumbfounded look from British officials, followed by some awkward remarks about the Washington weather. Even Gordon Brown’s poker face gave way to a flash of astonishment.
To be fair, this wasn’t completely unexpected. The degree of enmity between Bush and McCain — particularly following their legendarily dirty fight in the 2000 South Carolina primary — is hard to exaggerate.
Indeed Bush is far from kind to McCain in the parts of his new book that relate his “complex relationship” with the Arizona senator. I’ve yet to see a copy, so I don’t know whether he mentions how he voted. But it might be worth asking. He was certainly wavering.