Former President George W. Bush has slammed President Donald Trump, a fellow Republican, saying he “doesn’t know what it means to be president,” and unfortunately the charge is making the rounds as Trump is overseas.
Bush made the remark to Mark K. Updegrove, author of “The Last Republicans.” Updegrove had the cooperation of Bush and his father, former President George H.W. Bush, for the book, which comes out next week.
The elder Bush told Updegrove that he voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. The younger President Bush said he skipped voting in that race.
The timing of Bush's remarks, widely reported on Friday, is regrettable, says one Trump adviser. Trump just left for a 13-day trip to Asia, and criticism of a sitting president is generally muted by statesmen when a president is overseas.
Indeed, both the elder Bush (often called 41, as in the 41st president) and the younger Bush (aka 43) made it a point to not criticize White House successors. Even strong Bush supporters say they do not understand why the Bushes are criticizing a sitting Republican president, at any time.
"My quarrel — and I am a great admirer of President George W. Bush given my defense of the Bush Doctrine — is the double standard," said Robert Kaufman, a professor of public policy at Pepperdine University. "Why no corresponding criticism of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for equal or even more egregious policies and behaviors? We should judge them by the same standard."
Matt Mackowiak, a GOP consultant and chairman of the Travis County Republican Party in Texas, said the Bushes likely could not control the timing of the publisher's press releases. But Mackowiak notes that both Bushes went out of their way not to criticize their Democratic successors.
In 1993, that meant former President George H.W. Bush stayed silent during the administration of former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat who bested him in 1992. For eight years, the elder Bush said nothing about Clinton's policies, and even became personal friends with him.
In 2009, it also meant former President George W. Bush stayed mum on former President Barack Obama. The latter example was more unusual, as the younger Bush and Obama were not personal friends, and Obama rose through the Democratic Party by bashing the younger Bush's policies.
What has changed? No one seems to know why the Bushes have changed their policy.
"Both Bushes have concerns about Trump's conduct as president and what they see as his narrowing of the appeal of the GOP long term, both of which are concerns that other elected Republicans have expressed both publicly and privately," said Mackowiak, in an email to LifeZette. "However, the Bushes did not criticize Obama when he was president, even though they surely had strong disagreements with his policies."
Kaufman, in an email to LifeZette, suggests Trump bashed the two Bush presidents in 2015 and 2016 as a way to get at his GOP presidential primary rival, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the son of 41 and the brother of 43. At one point in the 2016 primary campaign, Trump told CNN's "New Day" that the younger Bush had advance notice that the attacks of September 11, 2001, were coming.
"President Trump deserves his lumps from President Bush, given what President Trump has said about the Bushes," said Kaufman, a LifeZette contributor, in an email.
On the other hand, the Bush family is known for its soft Republicanism. In 1990, the elder Bush famously broke his successful 1988 campaign pledge not to raise taxes.
"Read my lips: No new taxes," said the elder Bush in 1988. He went on to thrash Democratic presidential nominee Mike Dukakis. But Bush quickly folded to Democrats in Congress, raising taxes in 1990.
Jeffrey Lord, a former official in President Ronald Reagan's administration, said Bush 41 never liked the conservative or populist wing of the GOP. Lord quoted Angelo Codevilla, a Boston University international relations professor.
In his 2010 book, "The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It," Codevilla said the elder Bush mocked Reaganites.
"Former Soviet dictator Mikhail Gorbachev has said that in 1987, then-Vice President George H.W.Bush distanced himself from his own administration by telling Gorbachev, 'Reagan is a conservative, an extreme conservative. All the dummies and blockheads are with him,'" Codevilla wrote.
The rhetoric sounds familiar because the elder Bush told Updegrove in 2016 that he didn't like Trump, and that Trump was a "blowhard."
Bush 43 tried to learn from his father's mistakes. He never raised taxes. But as the White House noted over the weekend, the younger Bush got bogged down in the Iraq War, starting in 2003. Bush 43 also failed to curb spending.
As for Jeb Bush, arguably he was the most conservative Bush. He ran as a conservative for Florida governor in 1998 and 2002. But preparing to run for the White House in 2014, Jeb Bush called illegal immigration an "act of love." The tone-deaf remark cost him dearly with GOP voters.
Then, in 2016, as Trump took on Democrat Hillary Clinton, Bush 43 told Updegrove that he worried he and his father would be the last Republican presidents. GOP voters thought otherwise.
Mackowaik says the Bushes ought to extend Trump the same courtesy they gave to Clinton and Obama, and offer private advice.
"It would be best for Bush 43 to reach out to Trump privately to meet with him, to offer advice and try to be constructive and helpful," said Mackowiak.
HarperCollins will publish "The Last Republicans" on November 14.