HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) -- Former President George H.W. Bush endorsed John McCain on Monday, another sign that the Republican Party is coalescing around the Arizona senator's presumptive nomination.
"At this critical time in history... the United States cannot be allowed to falter," the 41st president said in Houston, Texas. "No one is better to lead our nation in these trying times than Senator John McCain.
"His character was forged in the crucible of war," Bush said, referring to McCain's experience as a Navy pilot and prisoner of war in Vietnam.
"Few men walking among us has sacrificed so much for the cause of human freedom," Bush said.
After Bush spoke, McCain said Bush's endorsement would help in "uniting our party and moving forward."
In addition to boosting McCain's fundraising apparatus, the formal announcement in Houston, Texas, by Ronald Reagan's vice president, scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Central Time, probably will provide McCain with new political ammunition against critics who question his conservative credentials.
On Sunday, McCain brought memories of Bush's infamous broken promise not to raise taxes after the 2008 candidate was asked whether he would make a similar pledge.
Speaking on ABC's "This Week," McCain said he would not increase taxes under any circumstances and mentioned several alternatives, including lowering interest rates and lowering corporate tax rates "if our economy continues to deteriorate."
"There's a lot of things that I would think we should do to relieve that burden, including, obviously, as we all know, simplification of the tax code," he said.
Despite Bush's strong ties to the party's revered Reagan legacy, those links haven't endeared him to the GOP's conservative wing. The Bush endorsement won't necessarily help McCain with "values voters," who have always suspected that Bush the elder was not wholly committed to the anti-abortion cause.
Regarding his Supreme Court choices, "Bush 41's" tenure gave rise to a phrase that has become part of the conservative lexicon: "No more Souters," a reference to Bush Supreme Court nominee David Souter, a then-relative unknown who proved to be a high court liberal.
After Monday's endorsement, McCain, who has 830 of the 1,191 delegates needed to win the nomination, heads to Wisconsin, where his rival Mike Huckabee, who has 217 delegates, is already campaigning.
McCain strategists see the Bush endorsement as a way to send another message to the former Arkansas governor to exit the race. The Bush nod also may bolster McCain in Texas, where a strong bloc of politically active social conservatives could embarrass him in the state's March 4 primary.
On Thursday, former GOP rival Mitt Romney threw his support behind McCain, calling him a true American hero "capable of leading our country in this dangerous hour."
A source involved in the internal deliberations with Romney said the former Massachusetts governor concluded that it's time for the party to unite and focus on a difficult fall election environment.
Romney will "release" his delegates to McCain, meaning he will encourage them to get behind McCain's candidacy, the source said.
Romney had collected 286 delegates before he suspended his campaign two weeks ago.
Those delegates would put McCain less than 100 delegates away from securing the nomination.
McCain appeared on CNN's "Larry King Live" on Thursday and defended his statement that U.S. troops could spend "maybe 100" years in Iraq. The senator said he was referring to a military presence similar to what the nation has in places like Japan, Germany and South Korea.
"It's not a matter of how long we're in Iraq; it's if we succeed or not," McCain said, adding that Democratic presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton "want to set a date for withdrawal -- that means chaos; that means genocide; that means undoing all the success we've achieved and al Qaeda tells the world they defeated the United States of America."
Posted by LS