A former and a would-be future Republican president enjoyed a nostalgic political reunion Friday, with George Bush welcoming Bob Dole to his summer home and pledging his enthusiastic support in classic Bush-speak.
"My heart lies in this, at this level, the Dole level," Bush, famous for his mangled syntax, told reporters.
Asked about Dole's consideration of tax cuts, Bush said he knew Dole was committed to fiscal sanity, and he took the opportunity to defend his own handling of the economy, arguing that he had left a thriving economy for President Clinton.
Bush was joined by his eldest son, Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Although George W. Bush has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate, his father said the subject didn't come up.
Bush, 72, and Dole, 73, are two of the chief GOP political leaders of their generation, and their relationship has been a complicated one of rivalry and comradeship. In 1973, President Richard Nixon ousted Dole in favor of Bush to head the Republican National Committee. They twice ran against each other for the presidential nomination.
But Dole also served as Bush's legislative steward during Bush's presidency. "He was there by my side, never jumped away," Bush said. Bush said he would return the favor by doing "anything Sen. Dole wants me to do" to help in the campaign.
The peg for Friday's event was the sixth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the historic legislation pushed by Dole and signed by Bush to guarantee access for disabled citizens. Dole said that as president he would jump-start efforts to increase jobs for the disabled by convening a White House conference, and would also create a "George Bush Award" to honor those who help the disabled find jobs.
Bush, in turn, lauded Dole's role on behalf of the disabled: "No one has done more to break down the barriers that prevent men and women with disabilities from being fully integrated into American society than Bob Dole."
Bush came to Dole's plane to greet the candidate and to shake hands with reporters who had covered his White House.
At a picture-taking session, Bush brushed off questions: "Hey, this is a photo op, man. This is the new me. I don't answer questions."
But he seemed to enjoy being surrounded by the press corps once again.
As for Dole, he said, "I know the president sees many of his friends in the press. I'm still looking for one."