After Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy in September 2008, with the global economy on the verge of a meltdown, Bush thought McCain could turn the rotten economy to his advantage.
“Our party controlled the White House, so we were the natural target for the finger-pointing,” he wrote. “Yet, I thought the financial crisis gave John his best chance to mount a comeback. In periods of crisis, voters value experience and judgment over youth and charisma. By handling the challenge in a statesmanlike way, John could make the case that he was the better candidate for the times.”
Instead, McCain called Bush on Sept. 24, a few hours before the president would deliver his nationally televised speech on the necessity of the TARP bailouts, to demand he convene a White House meeting on the rescue package.
“I asked John how he was feeling about the campaign, but he went directly to the reason for his call,” Bush said.
Bush asked him to hold off. He was worried that such a meeting would undercut Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s negotiations with congressional leaders. Indeed, none of Bush’s top advisers were keen on calling a meeting.
McCain disregarded Bush’s plea. He issued a statement calling for a meeting, went on TV just “minutes” after his call to Bush and “suspended” his campaign so he could work on the bill.
It proved a pivotal moment that allowed Obama to paint McCain as “erratic in crisis.” It also forced Bush’s hand, who felt like he didn’t have a choice after McCain went public.
“I could see the headlines: ‘Even Bush Thinks McCain’s Idea Is a Bad One’,” he writes.
Meanwhile, Bush describes Obama as gracious.
“Anytime the president calls, I will take it,” Bush quotes Obama saying, agreeing to interrupt his campaign to fly to Washington.
Before the sitdown in the cabinet room, Bush had a private moment with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“She clearly suspected that my motive was to sabotage the Democrats,” Bush recalls, reflecting on their conversation. “Like a volcano ready to erupt, she said, ‘Barack Obama will be our spokesman’.”
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