Bush-League Criticism

What was Henry Kissinger’s old joke about the Iran-Iraq war, again?

The conflict between Donald Trump and the Bush family is perhaps the silliest of the 45th President’s many feuds, nothing more than the latest outbreak of red-on-red rhetorical violence (see Trump v. McCain, Trump v. Corker, Trump v. Flake., etc.) It’s fundamentally silly because there really isn’t that much difference between Trump and the Bushes, in terms of the way Donald and both Georges slid into the White House.

Granted, there is something morbidly humorous about seeing these one-percenters insult each other:

The White House on Saturday disparaged the legacies of the only two living Republican presidents to precede Donald Trump, after reports that both men castigated Trump in interviews last year and refused to vote for him.

Former president George H.W. Bush mocked then-candidate Trump as a “blowhard” and voted for a Democratic president, while the younger Bush worried aloud that Trump would destroy the idea of a Republican president in all but name, according to “The Last Republicans,” which is scheduled to go on sale later this month.

The White House responded after quotes from the book were published on Saturday, entering an extraordinary war of words involving three presidents from the same party.

“If one Presidential candidate can disassemble a political party, it speaks volumes about how strong a legacy its past two presidents really had,” the White House wrote to CNN. It called the younger Bush’s decision to wage war on Iraq “one of the greatest foreign policy mistakes in American history.”

The book’s author, Mark Updegrove, interviewed the Bushes last year — long before Trump’s inauguration — and found neither wanted to see what they described as a coarse, populist campaigner become president.

“I don’t like him,” George H.W. Bush told Updegrove before the election, according to the book. “I don’t know much about him, but I know he’s a blowhard. And I’m not too excited about him being [our] leader.”

A month earlier, Trump had famously cited himself as his own best foreign policy adviser. “Because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things,” said the candidate, who had no diplomatic or military experience.

Upon learning this, Updegrove wrote, George W. Bush thought to himself: “Wow, this guy really doesn’t understand the job of president.”

That’s certainly the pot calling the kettle orange, no?

Yes, the Bush family is presumably still ticked off over the former pro-wrestling personality laying the smackdown on Jeb Bush in the 2016 Republican primary, but you’d figure George Sr. and George Jr. would recognize some of themselves in Trump. The bigoted billionaire’s anti-minority, anti-media rhetoric was simply an amped-up version of the malicious material H. W. used in 1988–and when it comes to Trump’s treatment of women, the man who appointed Clarence Thomas to the US Supreme Court certainly has no credibility to ever complain.

As for Saint W., it appears that the 43rd President has forgotten about the race-baiting and media-bashing he engaged in during his 2000 campaign–as well as the fact that like Trump, he also entered the White House despite falling short in the popular vote, and manipulated the country with fear to stay in power.

As Michael Cohen notes, Bush 43 was simply a less vulgar version of Trump:

Bush’s record of failure — across so many policy areas — is unmatched in US presidential history. Even Richard Nixon, the only president ever to be forced from office, could count a number of policy successes. For W, the cupboard is bare.

Indeed, Trump will have his work cut out for him if he wants to leave the country in as great a shambles as Bush did.

W’s presidency also offered a preview of the current dumpster fire at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Like Trump, Bush staffed his administration with hacks, incompetents, and ideologues. Lobbyists were practically given oversight of environmental and business regulation with predictably awful results.

Like Trump’s band of mediocrities, the Bush administration was dismissive of science, facts, and truth-telling, and also like Trump, Bush’s White House openly sought to politicize the Justice Department.

He proposed a constitutional amendment in 2004 that would have prevented gay Americans from getting married and used that issue to mobilize religious voters in key swing states like Ohio. And in his reelection that same year, he engaged in divisive political rhetoric that portrayed Democrats and those opposed to his counter-terrorism policies as somehow unpatriotic. His presidency more than laid the groundwork for the angry, fractured politics and ideologically driven policy decisions that we are seeing today. And of course, Bush — like so many other prominent Republicans — largely remained silent as Trump took over the Republican Party.

Who will win this fight between Trump and the Bushes? Who cares. The more important question is: will progressives overcome their internal squabbling and unite to defeat Trumpism and Bushism?

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.