George W. Bush on Ted Cruz: "I just don't like the guy"

Foolish in so many ways.

“I just don’t like the guy,” Bush said Sunday night, according to conversations with more than half a dozen donors who attended the event…

“I was like, ‘Holy sh-t, did he just say that?’” the donor said. “I remember looking around and seeing that other people were also looking around surprised.”…

One donor, paraphrasing the former president’s comment in response to a broad question about how he viewed the primary race and the other Republican candidates, said: “He said he found it ‘opportunistic’ that Cruz was sucking up to Trump and just expecting all of his support to come to him in the end,” that donor added…

Bush also cast Cruz’s candidacy as an exercise in personal gain, not service. “He sort of looks at this like Cruz is doing it all for his own personal gain, and that’s juxtaposed against a family that’s been all about public service and doing it for the right reasons,” a donor said. “He’s frustrated to have watched Cruz basically hijack the Republican Party of Texas and the Republican Party in Washington.”


Let’s count the silliness.

1. Dubya’s elevating Cruz by attacking him this way, whether he means to or not. Jeb’s been trying to manage feuds with Trump and, increasingly, with Rubio, two guys widely seen as his biggest rivals for the nomination. The fact that Bush 43 singled out Cruz instead is the seed for a hundred stories to come about how he’s the one the Bush family is really worried about. It’s dynamite PR for Cruz.

2. Getting personal with Cruz is a departure from Dubya’s otherwise unfailingly gracious post-presidency. Dozens of tea partiers piped up last night on social media as the Cruz story was circulating to ask why Bush was willing to criticize a conservative who’d actually worked for him when he’s been conspicuously unwilling to criticize his left-wing successor in the White House. Good question.

3. The timing is poor insofar as annoyance with Dubya over this will free some conservatives to embrace Trump’s knock on Bush for having failed to prevent 9/11. I never thought Trump would pay any price in the polls for that, but it’s true that Bush (like Cheney) retains a bigger reservoir of goodwill on the right than you might expect given his record on spending. Six years of vicious, relentless liberal attacks on a Republican president have a funny way of building durable sympathy for him among his base. Even Cruz, in criticizing Bush for growing the debt, was careful to compliment him as a good man with good intentions. As a Republican, you don’t get nasty with a man with whom the left has been getting nasty for more than a decade. Bush’s smack at Cruz turns that logic on its head, though: Now he’s the Republican taking shots at a fellow party member whom the left despises. Establishmentarians will love that but some tea partiers who retained a soft spot for Dubya will lose it because of this.


4. If there’s any Republican you would have expected Bush to attack personally, it’s Trump, right? He’s the one who’s been ruthless in belittling Jeb, he’s the one who’s taken to criticizing Dubya himself lately, and he’s the one who (at the moment, at least) is the greatest threat to win the nomination. The fact that Dubya reserved his contempt for Cruz seems to confirm the worst fears of grassroots conservatives, that when push comes to shove there’s no one — not Trump, not even Obama — whom the establishment loathes more than pols beloved by their own base. Even if that pol actually used to work for the Bush White House. How robust do you think tea-party turnout would be for Jeb as nominee next November after this?

What was Bush thinking?

Update: Insult to injury.

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David Strom 10:41 AM on December 08, 2023