RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’ goal of uniting the Republican Party behind Donald Trump received a blow on Wednesday from the last two Republican Presidents. A spokesman for George W. Bush said he, “does not plan to participate in or comment on the presidential race.” While a spokesman for the elder President Bush stated he was “retired from politics” except for a few events in support of Jeb Bush.
It’s easy to dismiss this refusal by citing the younger Bush’s reticence to comment on politics since leaving the White House and the 91 year-old former President is “retired.” Yet, such spin belies the true significance of these moves. Both stated reasons seem more like polite excuses than explanations. Neither Bush was too bashful to give Mitt Romney a thumbs up in 2012. The timing of the statement is also telling. Had the Bushes made the statement after Jeb Bush lost South Carolina, it’d be safe to conclude they didn’t want to be involved in what would have been a messy political process with their relative no longer in the race. The timing of this statement constitutes a firm rejection of Donald Trump.
To Trump supporters, it’s easy to brush this off and pretend the Bushes are simply retaliating for Trump’s manhandling of Jeb Bush and his attacks on the George W. Bush Administration. I think there’s far more to it. The Bush family has shown an ability to rally around people who opposed them or made their lives difficult (Reagan in 1980 and McCain in 2008.)
In addition, many conservatives have serious problems with the policies of both men but have undying respect for their character and patriotism, and that explains more about this decision to quietly stay out of the race. The elder President Bush was a war hero who never stood for bullies and isn’t about to start near the end of his life. George W. Bush is a man with serious faith and conviction. Speaking of his faith, he once declared, “I believe in grace, because I have seen it; in peace, because I have felt it; in forgiveness, because I have needed it.” Compare that to the statement by Trump last year about never having asked for forgiveness and you have a contrast between a man who had the humility to take on the awesome responsibility of the presidency and one whose arrogance makes him a menace to liberty.
In addition, there’s a concept of the dignity of the office of the Presidency which has been lost during the past seven years. We have spent much of Obama’s presidency at war with a Cable TV channel and providing commentary on the antics of Kanye West. The result of this has been the nomination of a reality TV star who uses his Twitter account to pursue his hobby of cyberbullying.
By contrast, both Bushes also have tremendous respect for the great office they once held. For that reason, they did not throw themselves into the fracas of this insane campaign as Mitt Romney did in March with a direct shot across the bow at Trump. However, they also will not lend the weight of their former office to support a man like Trump.
Even in retirement, the two Bushes carry great sway with people whose support Trump will need to be competitive in the fall. They are the Republican Party’s elder statesmen, and they will have no part in supporting Donald Trump. Expect this to be the beginning of a series of non-endorsements and half-hearted nods from people who would be all in behind any other Republican nominee. Also expect many voters to wonder, if the last two Republican Presidents won’t support Trump, why should they?