I only glanced at the headline of this NYT piece and didn’t bother reading the story since second-hand accounts of the Bushes dumping on Trump are commonplace now. Every few months an unnamed friend of the family whispers to a reporter that they don’t like POTUS, but there’s never anything on record by 41 or 43. Dubya got a little bolder two weeks ago when he delivered that speech attacking nationalism, yet even there he was unwilling to criticize Trump by name.
But now things have changed. They’re going on record.
Neither of the two Republican former presidents voted for Mr. Trump — the father voted for Hillary Clinton and the son voted for “none of the above,” as he told Mr. Updegrove…
In discussing Mr. Trump, the elder president was blunter. “I don’t like him,” [George H.W.] Bush said in May 2016. “I don’t know much about him, but I know he’s a blowhard. And I’m not too excited about him being a leader.” Rather than being motivated by public service, Mr. Bush said Mr. Trump seemed to be driven by “a certain ego.”…
When Mr. Trump declared that “I’m my own adviser,” [George W.] Bush thought he did not understand the presidency. He also lamented Mr. Trump’s lack of humility. “As you know from looking at my family, it is a certain heritage, that’s what they expect, and we’re not seeing that” in Mr. Trump.
In 2009, less than two months after Obama was sworn in, Dubya had this to say about criticizing the new president:
“I’m not going to spend my time criticizing him. There are plenty of critics in the arena,” Bush said. “He deserves my silence.”…
“I love my country a lot more than I love politics,” Bush said. “I think it is essential that he be helped in office.”
Four years later he was still true to his word. Now he’s crapping on Trump. As a certain losing presidential nominee might say, what happened? It can’t be tactical. Granted, Dubya attacking Obama circa 2009 would have only helped the new guy given how unpopular Bush himself was at the time. But although he’s much more popular today, Bush attacking Trump only helps Trump too. It’s proof positive to populists that the Republican wing of the supposed single-party establishment really does hate POTUS and prefers a professorial liberal Democrat to a brawling Republican favorite of blue-collar voters.
Two possibilities for why the Bushes are speaking up, then. One: They see their own party drifting further towards populism and nationalism and they feel obliged to use what remaining popularity they have to try to steer it back towards the center. Bush not criticizing a Democratic successor is politics; Bush criticizing a Republican successor whom he thinks is wrecking the GOP is personal. They’re trying to signal to right-wing voters who are uncomfortable with Trump that they don’t need to go along with the crowd. To borrow a terribly worn cliche, it’s a fight for the soul of the Party of Lincoln and everyone’s a combatant.
Two: They really do believe that “this is not normal,” as the left likes to say about Trump. They believe he’s categorically different in temperament from other presidents (at least in modern history) and in how far he might be willing to go to undercut constitutional norms. They’d keep quiet about a “normal” Republican president whom they disliked but they feel obliged to criticize an “abnormal” one. Obama said something to that effect too on his way out the door this past January when he was asked if he plans to criticize Trump’s policies in retirement. Not as a routine left/right thing, O replied, but “There’s a difference between that normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake.” Ironically, one of the examples he gave of Trump potentially destroying “core values” would be if he deported DACA enrollees, the one Obama policy that Trump as president has tried to avoid ending.
Whatever the explanation, animosity from the Bushes is good news for Trump. Given the fallout from Dubya’s president — Iraq, the financial crisis, the endless amnesty push — he’s a terrific foil for POTUS in pushing his own contrasting vision of the GOP. Bush is far more likable but right-wingers have never cared less about likability than they do now.
Update: And the White House backs, mentioning Iraq:
— Ryan Nobles (@ryanobles) November 4, 2017