Bannon — who has declared war on the Republican establishment since leaving the White House — went on to apologize to any “Bush folks” in the audience before asserting that “there has not been a more destructive presidency than George Bush’s.”
Conservatives have been critical of Bush’s presidency for spending increases and an expansion of foreign entanglements.
Bannon’s broadside was prompted by a rare political speech that Bush delivered Thursday in which he warned of threats to U.S. democracy and a decay of civic engagement.
At a New York forum sponsored by the Bush presidential center, Bush offered a blunt assessment of a political system corrupted by “conspiracy theories and outright fabrication” in which nationalism has been “distorted into nativism.”
“We’ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty,” Bush said during a 16-minute address at “The Spirit of Liberty” event. “Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone and provides permission for cruelty and bigotry. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.”
Bush did not mention Trump by name, and former aides emphasized that his message echoed words he has spoken before. But the fact that a former president was sounding the alarm about American values and the United States’ role in the world at a time when Trump has unsettled allies abroad and provoked intense political backlash at home injected Bush’s remarks with greater urgency.
At a White House briefing Friday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “Our understanding is that those comments were not directed towards the president.”
David Nakamura contributed to this report.