HOUSTON Former President George H.W. Bush endorsed John McCain on Monday, a nod of approval from the Republican political dynasty's patriarch that sends a strong signal to a GOP establishment wary of the Arizona senator.
"No one is better prepared to lead our nation at these trying times than Sen. John McCain," Bush said, standing alongside the Republican nominee-in-waiting in an airport hanger. "His character was forged in the crucible of war. His commitment to America is beyond any doubt. But most importantly, he has the right character and values to guide our nation."
McCain, in turn, 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 said.
Since effectively sealing the nomination when chief rival Mitt Romney dropped out, McCain has been working to convince the fickle and influential conservative base of the Republican Party to get behind his candidacy. He's seen some progress with, several high profile Republicans from the party's establishment endorsing McCain in an effort to unite the party while Democrats continue to fight for a nominee.
President Bush is backing McCain through his body language, with protocol demanding that he not swing explicitly behind the candidate with a race still technically and only technically in progress.
His father's endorsement, which follows one from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is George W. Bush'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 get out.
Without mentioning McCain's chief standing rival by name, the elder Bush suggested that he wasn't sending a signal to Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor. "I did not come here to tell any other candidate what to do," Bush said.
Bush also called criticism by the right flank that McCain is not conservative enough "grossly unfair."
"He's got a sound conservative record," Bush said.
McCain has drawn the ire of some high-profile conservative pundits and others for what they call infractions against the party. McCain twice voted against Bush's tax cuts. He pushed a campaign finance overhaul that critics said restricted their free speech rights. And, he has worked across the aisle with Democrats on issues like an eventual path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants heresy in the eyes of many hard-core Republicans.