He effusively praised South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), noting how fortunate we are that the country welcomed her parents. That, no one could doubt, was a slap at the nasty, anti-immigrant response to her response to the State of the Union. He dutifully praised his wife as the “greatest first lady ever.” He sweetly recalled going to baseball games with Jeb when his brother would be writing letters to “the love of his life,” his wife Columba.
Mostly, he lifted the tone of what has been a sordid, mean-spirited campaign. He cautioned, “Your most solemn job as voters is to elect a president who understands the threats we face.” And with an unmistakable eye toward Donald Trump, whom he avoided mentioning by name, he advised, “Americans are angry and frustrated but we do not need someone in the Oval Office who mirrors and inflames our frustration.”
He was there, however, to bolster his brother. He told the crowd, “Jeb looks beyond the horizon and he sees a better tomorrow,” and he cautioned that the loudest voice in the room is not the one you should automatically follow. Echoing Jeb Bush’s argument, the former president said his brother has the humility to know what he does not know. And at the end he dutifully introduced Jeb: “This is a serious election for a serious job, so please welcome a serious and thoughtful candidate . . .” And that was it for Bush 43.
For those who have grimaced and watched the current president with bewilderment and even anger as our international influence deteriorates and public discourse goes to seed, and who have deplored the Trump hostile takeover of the presidential campaign, Bush 43’s appearance was uplifting, but also bittersweet. Even those who criticized Bush 43 robustly while in office could see the former president’s humility, kindness and raw political talent. It was enough to make one nostalgic for a president, hardly without faults, who nevertheless exerted international leadership and refused to return in kind the cruel rhetoric hurled his way. His dignified reminders of what the presidency is all about were such a shocking departure from what we have seen in both parties’ contests that one is left to wonder how one of them can possibly be up for the job.
If nothing else, Bush 43 was the most appropriate and effective rejection of Trump the GOP could hope for. This is the man who has been viciously attacked by the vulgarian real estate mogul. Here he was, the real George W. Bush, reminding us to aspire to something better than what we have been seeing. Whether all of that passes to Jeb is another matter, but if the GOP begins to seriously reconsider the Trump phenomenon — seeing it for its crude, unhinged, know-nothingism — Bush will have served his party and his country, once again, ably.