George W. Bush is passing on the Republican National Convention.
Bush, of course, left office as an unusually unpopular president. He’s comparable in that respect to Lyndon Johnson and Harry Truman. Johnson was too ill to consider attending the 1972 Democratic convention. Truman did appear at the 1956 Democratic convention, even before his eventual rehabilitation was really underway.
But perhaps the best comparison would be to those presidents who went out as losers: George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.
After losing in 1992, George H.W. Bush did in fact address the 1996 convention.
Carter? As Steve Kornacki reported back in 2008, his treatment has changed over the years:
After being drummed out of office in ’80, he was offered little more than a perfunctory acknowledgment at both the ’84 and ’88 conventions (even though the ’88 gathering was in Atlanta). But by ’92, Carter’s standing seemed sufficiently restored and Bill Clinton, the first Southerner since Carter to claim the Democratic nomination, invited him to speak in primetime in New York.
However, Carter’s next convention address didn’t come until 2004, and he only had a brief appearance in 2008.
I don’t believe that Ford spoke in 1980 — although he was actively being considered as Ronald Reagan’s running mate, so he was certainly not someone Republicans were running away from — and I don’t know whether he spoke in 1984, but he did have prime-time spots in at least 1988 and 1992.
So overall George W. Bush is being treated much more like Carter than like the other two. And as Taegan Goddard notes, the Bush announcement coming on a Friday afternoon — not to mention one with a major news story — speaks volumes. If history holds, Bush will probably get to give a prime-time address in about another eight years. At least, that is, if he builds a reputation for exemplary public service in his post-presidency.
I would give him a much better chance of addressing a future Republican Convention than Richard Nixon. And, yes, I meant it that way.