Off the Record, Bush Wonders if She's Like Ike

President Bush, shown with Sen. Hillary Clinton in 2001, recently expressed admiration for her presidential campaign, leading some journalists to infer that he thinks she will win the election in 2008. Bush also likened himself to former president Harry S. Truman, whose successor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, followed Truman's foreign policy.
President Bush, shown with Sen. Hillary Clinton in 2001, recently expressed admiration for her presidential campaign, leading some journalists to infer that he thinks she will win the election in 2008. Bush also likened himself to former president Harry S. Truman, whose successor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, followed Truman's foreign policy. (By Eric Draper -- The White House Via Associated Press)
Saturday, September 22, 2007

HANDING THE KEYS TO CLINTON?

Off the Record, Bush Wonders if She's Like Ike

Karl Rove may not think much of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's chances of winning the White House, but it sounds as though President Bush is less sanguine. At an off-the-record lunch a week ago, Bush expressed admiration for her tenacity in the campaign. And he left some in the room with the impression that he thinks she will win the election and has been thinking about how to turn over the country to her.

The topic came up when Bush invited a group of morning and evening news anchors and Sunday show hosts to join him in the executive mansion's family dining room a few hours before he delivered his nationally televised address on Iraq last week. Bush made no explicit election predictions, according to some in the room, but clearly thought Clinton would win the Democratic nomination and talked in a way that seemed to suggest he expects her to succeed him -- and will continue his Iraq policy if she does.

As Bush was describing his thinking about Iraq and the future, he indicated that he wants to use his final 16 months to stabilize Iraq enough and redefine the U.S. mission there so that the next president would feel politically able to keep a smaller but long-term presence in the country. The broadcasters were not allowed to directly quote the president, but they were allowed to allude to his thinking. George Stephanopoulos of ABC News later cited the analogy of Dwight D. Eisenhower essentially adopting President Harry S. Truman's foreign policy despite the Republican general's 1952 campaign statements.

"He had kind of a striking analogy," Stephanopoulos said of Bush on the air a few hours after the lunch. "He believes that whoever replaces him, like General Eisenhower when he replaced Harry Truman, may criticize the president's policy during the campaign but will likely continue much of it in office."

It is, in fact, a striking analogy, and of course Bush has been positioning himself as a latter-day Truman for a while, particularly in the sense that Truman was reviled by the public toward the end of his presidency but later earned historians' respect for his leadership at the beginning of the Cold War. Not surprisingly, Bush critics consider that wishful thinking.

Either way, even though he has repeatedly forsworn playing "prognosticator in chief," Bush offered the broadcasters some assessment of the race to succeed him. According to people in the room, he said Clinton is formidable and will raise a lot of money. He seemed particularly impressed that she has held up under enormous pressure on the campaign trail, noting that running for national office is extremely hard. Just as he had the advantage of having seen it up close during his father's four national campaigns, he noted that Clinton benefits from having been on the front lines of her husband's two presidential elections. Bush added that Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) is impressive in his own way, but the president seemed to doubt that the freshman senator could win, given his inexperience in high office and national campaigning.

On the Republican side, according to people in the room, Bush expressed surprise that former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani has managed to remain the front-runner despite his liberal positions on social and cultural issues normally critical to the party base. That's a sign of how important the terrorism issue is to Republican voters, Bush said. But he cautioned against ruling out John McCain, saying that the senator from Arizona had managed to get up off the mat after a campaign implosion earlier this year.

-- Peter Baker

THE UNION ARMY


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