Bush vs. Trump: Liz Cheney enlists Dubya for fundraiser to fend off primary challenge

(Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press via AP)

A fitting development for more than one reason. Between her pedigree and the fact that she’s become the party’s most fearless Never Trumper, Cheney’s primary next year was destined to be seen as a battle between the “old GOP” and the “new GOP.” Having the last pre-Trump Republican president raise money for her underlines that dynamic.

But it’s also fitting because the antagonism between Bush and Trump personally has risen lately. In his speech in Shanksville on 9/11 this year, Dubya said, “There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them.” The reference to defiling national symbols irritated apologists for January 6, Trump himself foremost among them:

“So interesting to watch former President Bush, who is responsible for getting us into the quicksand of the Middle East (and then not winning!), as he lectures us that terrorists on the ‘right’ are a bigger problem than those from foreign countries that hate America, and that are pouring into our Country right now,” Trump said in his statement, which took aim at Bush for the lengthy war in Afghanistan that followed the terrorist attacks.

“If that is so, why was he willing to spend trillions of dollars and be responsible for the death of perhaps millions of people?” Trump said. “He shouldn’t be lecturing us about anything. The World Trade Center came down during his watch. Bush led a failed and uninspiring presidency. He shouldn’t be lecturing anybody!”

Bush and Trump have rarely clashed directly, mainly because Dubya has kept a low profile since his presidency ended — and not entirely by choice, I assume. He was so unpopular by the time he left office that Republican pols viewed him as more of a liability than an asset on the campaign trail. His favorability has since turned all the way around, partly because he’s remained out of the political fray and partly because his genial persona created an appealing contrast with Trump’s combativeness.

But even though he’s grown more popular over time, it’s the rare Republican who wants a figurehead of the old guard, who’ll forever be remembered for launching the Iraq war, out stumping for him or her. Bush’s own brother held off on using him as a surrogate for most of the 2016 primary (although that was due to some degree to attacks about dynastic politics), but Jeb finally caved in desperation and brought Dubya in before South Carolina voted. Result: He finished fourth with just 7.8 percent, 25 points behind Trump, and quit afterward.

Dubya couldn’t help his brother. Can he help Cheney’s daughter?

I’m guessing no. But at this point, what can it hurt?

Mr. Trump endorsed Harriet Hageman, one of Ms. Cheney’s Republican challengers, earlier this month. Mr. Trump has called Ms. Cheney a “warmongering fool” and a “horrible human being.”…

Ms. Cheney, meanwhile, has responded to Mr. Trump’s attacks with the two best fundraising quarters of her political career. She raised $1.5 million in the first three months of the year and $1.9 million in the following three. John Boehner and Paul Ryan, both former GOP House speakers, have helped raise money for her, and Republican Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Mitt Romney of Utah have all contributed to her campaign from their respective political committees.

He can certainly help her raise money. And if he’s willing to hit the trail for her in Wyoming (which I doubt), I’d bet that Cheney would be happy to have him. She’s obviously no longer maneuvering strategically when it comes to Trump and her primary; she’s going to be herself and do what she thinks is right and let the chips fall where they may. In fact, enlisting Dubya suggests that she’s leaning into the “old GOP versus new GOP” narrative for her race, which is not the sort of thing you do if you’re trying to, you know, win but maybe the sort of thing you do if you’re trying to heighten the contradictions between what the party was and what it’s become.

The wrinkle in that is that neither side has much affection for what the party was. Most Republicans obviously prefer Trump to Bush and if you asked the average Democrat which of the two they’d rather see back in the White House, I think the reaction would be more complicated than we expect. They loathe Trump personally and despise his “stop the steal” propaganda. But at least Trump didn’t start any major wars, they might tell you.

To the extent there’s anything strategic on Cheney’s part about bringing in Bush, I think it’s his pure personal likability. Trump voters in Wyoming have no great loyalty to her but they may feel a little more divided if George Bush and Dick Cheney — two men whom they voted for twice — are implicitly on the ballot opposite Trump’s candidate.

By the way, check out some of the other names attending Cheney’s fundraiser in the tweet above. Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Harriet Miers, Kay Bailey Hutchison: The entire pre-Trump GOP may end up joining Cheney’s last stand in Wyoming next year. Good for her for at least fighting to the end when so many others have thrown in the towel.