Bush’s gifts keep on giving. Let’s just call them — in Bush’s own words — the turd blossoms of our times.

I choose this reference to the president’s crude nickname for his former guru Karl Rove, because of the crudeness of the exchange between John McCain and a Spanish-speaking radio network and the subsequent exchange between McCain’s handler Randy Scheunemann and the press. It’s a day-old story and many have had their crack at it (a chance to get all those “My Fair Maverick” headlines out of the way) and on the surface it seems to be a tiny blip in comparison to other gifts — like the $500 billion federal deficit, the $700 billion investor wipe-out, and endless war.

But something isn’t right. Something is too Bushy about it all. Reporters and partisans have rushed to McCain’s defense, blaming the interviewer’s Spanish accent, the sudden shift between hemispheres in the discussion. That’s entirely possible, but like many others point out, while the gaffe might be explained away (one of many, we might add), the cover-up should ring some bells about a future McCain White House:

From Andrew Romano in Newsweek yesterday:

In an interview Monday with Radio Caracol WSUA 1260AM, a Spanish-language station from Miami, the Republican presidential nominee was asked whether he would “be willing to invite President Jose Luis Zapatero to the White House.” This should have been an easy question for McCain to answer–because he’s answered it before.

Romano points out how McCain told the Spanish newspaper El Pais in April that “this is the moment to leave behind discrepancies with Spain,” and that despite Bush’s grudge over Zapatero pulling Spanish troops out of Iraq in 2004, “I would like for [President Zapatero] to visit the United States … “I am very interested not only in normalizing relations with Spain but in obtaining good and productive relations with the goal of addressing many issues and challenges that we have to confront together.”

Except it’s not what McCain said Monday. Instead, the Arizona senator responded to Radio Caracol’s question with some boilerplate about being “willing to meet with those leaders who are friends and want to work with us in a cooperative fashion.” Pressed to be more specific, McCain simply repeated his talking point: “I can assure you I will establish closer relations with our friends and I will stand up to those who want to do harm to the United States of America.” Needless to say, that’s an unusual way to refer to a European democracy and fellow member of NATO.

Listening to the tape (fun re-packaged version here) it seems that McCain didn’t know who the interviewer was referring to from the get-go. It seems, when she finally reiterated, “the president of Spain,” he didn’t want to admit the mistake and went into default mode: talking tough like another tough-talking guy we know when backed into a corner.

Well, when asked to clarify afterwards, Scheunemann leaped in and saved McCain from such speculation:

According to top foreign-policy adviser Randy Scheunemann, “there is no doubt Senator McCain knew exactly to whom the question referred.” The candidate’s vagueness, says Scheunemann, simply reflected the fact that McCain does not want to “rule in or rule out a White House meeting with President Zapatero” and is reluctant “to spell out scheduling and meeting location specifics in advance.” Given that McCain has already said he “would like for [President Zapatero] to visit the United States”–and didn’t use the “scheduling or meeting location” excuse in the interview–Scheunemann’s explanation strikes me as unsettling no matter how you slice it.

It also indicates, if you believe Scheunemann’s explanation, that McCain is gassed up and ready to diss a European ally — whose blood we don’t mind spilling for our increasingly mired cause in Afghanistan — either in the “you’re either with us or against us” frame Bush set into motion after 9/11, or, to merely cover-up a potentially embarrassing gaffe. Who is Spain, anyway? Either way, it doesn’t sound like the John McCain who said in March:

Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed. We need to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies. When we believe international action is necessary, whether military, economic, or diplomatic, we will try to persuade our friends that we are right. But we, in return, must be willing to be persuaded by them.

But then, the campaign didn’t seem as desperate then as to rely on people like Scheunemann, Charlie Black and Karl Rove to get to the White House. Even worse, like old colleague Christopher Cox this week, McCain doesn’t seem to mind running over his friends and potential allies to get where he wants to go.

But what will he do when he gets there? If one reads the tea-leaves, like longtime Pentagon reporter Walter Pincus, the U.S is about to “surge” into Afghanistan bigtime. But as Pincus points out, the Army is stretched, and will need to rely more on private contractors, and yes, allies to follow it through. Spain has only 1,000 soldiers in Afghanistan with the NATO mission now, but it is the symbolism, that despite public opinion and his own ideological inclinations, Zapatero would still throw in the with our cause that matters now.

If McCain loses all of himself to win this election there will be no where to turn but to the people who brought him there — they will be the only friends he has left, turd blossoms and all. What a gift.