John McCain is preparing to distance himself from President Bush more than West Wing officials might expect. "On some issues, we will agree to disagree with the White House," says a senior strategist for the Republican candidate's presidential campaign.
That's because McCain genuinely has separate opinions from Bush on many topics, the strategist tells U.S. News. He adds that, "It happens to be the best thing to do politically this year" because Bush is so unpopular and McCain needs to show he is his own man.
This growing separation was evident Thursday when McCain, during a visit to New Orleans, said the government response to Hurricane Katrina was "disgraceful" and promised, "Never again." The Arizona Republican said if he had been president during the devastating 2005 storm, he would have visited New Orleans immediately after the hurricane passed through, to see what needed to be done. Bush waited two days before making a flyover in Air Force One.
After touring the hurricane-wracked Ninth Ward neighborhood, McCain said, "I want to assure the people of the Ninth Ward, the people of New Orleans, the people of this country, never again, never again will a disaster of this nature be handled in the terrible and disgraceful way it was handled."
Among the other areas where McCain plans to take an aggressive un-Bush stand: his commitment to cut federal spending (which has skyrocketed under the current administration), his desire to take more vigorous steps to reduce global warming (which Bush has been lukewarm to), and his reminding voters of his early criticism of the management of the Iraq war. "His career has been based on principle independent of party line, even when it's not in his interest," says the McCain insider.
The presumptive GOP nominee is counting on Bush to gracefully accept his divergent views and continue raising vast amounts of money for the party and reassuring evangelicals and social conservatives that McCain is on their side.
—Kenneth T. Walsh