Susan Page, the Washington bureau chief of USA Today, revealed Bush’s views on Trump and the current GOP in her upcoming book, “The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty.” Page used interviews and notes from Bush’s journals to write the biography.
The Washington Post’s Lindsey Bever wrote about Bush’s thoughts, according to the memoir:
Bush had expressed disdain for Trump more than 20 years ago, writing in her journals in the 1990s that he was “greedy, selfish and ugly,” according to a news release about the book. Page wrote that, more recently, Bush had suggested Trump’s rise to power had turned the Republican Party into one she could no longer relate and that she did not understand how others could support him.
Few families have had a larger impact on the GOP than the Bush family. And while Bush said she could not recognize the Republican Party — a political party that in her final days she no longer considered herself a member of — to some outside of the Bush clan, there is a direct line from President George H.W. Bush to President Trump.
In the days after the elder President Bush’s death, many analysts spent significant time highlighting how different he was from the current president, primarily in temperament and personality. But few appeared to address the political similarities between the two.
Columnist Mehdi Hasan wrote for the Intercept at that time:
The inconvenient truth is that the presidency of George Herbert Walker Bush had far more in common with the recognizably belligerent, corrupt, and right-wing Republican figures who came after him — his son George W. and the current orange-faced incumbent — than much of the political and media classes might have you believe.
Others rehashed some of those commonalities after news of the former first lady’s “bewilderment” at Trump’s rise went public.
Veteran journalist Soledad O’Brien tweeted:
“Not super bewildering. Her husband, President George HW Bush leveraged the racism of the Willie Horton ad — a coded racist appeal to white voters — to victory. President Trump has taken that ball and run with it.”
William Horton, a convicted murderer serving a life sentence in Massachusetts, was granted a weekend furlough in 1986 but did not return to prison. Nearly a year later, he turned up in Maryland, where he had bound, gagged and stabbed a man in his home, raped his fiancee and then escaped in a car belonging to the man.
This all happened when Michael Dukakis, Bush’s opponent in the 1988 presidential campaign, was governor of Massachusetts.
As I wrote for the Fix in December:
Critics accused the pro-Bush political action committee responsible for the ad of playing into racial stereotypes among voters about black men as sexualized brutes waiting to prey on innocent white women. Some political strategists think the ad is what put the nail in the coffin for the Dukakis campaign. Years later, shortly before his death from cancer, Bush’s campaign manager Lee Atwater apologized for saying he would “make Willie Horton [Dukakis’s] running mate.”
And it may come as a surprise that the former first lady did not understand the Americans who were drawn to Trump, because it appeared that her husband and his campaign aides did. Despite not having any meaningful ties to the Deep South, Bush launched his presidential campaign in Gulfport, Miss., “largely to demonstrate the importance of the South to the GOP in the electoral strategy against Clinton,” according to veteran journalist John Mashek.
But the decision was also perceived as a way for Bush, a wealthy, Ivy League graduate from the Northeast, to connect with the white working-class voters who went on to become a key constituency of Trump’s base. And some say that Trump’s stoking of white voters’ racial and economic anxieties was largely effective because of the inroads made before he entered politics. Many critics of the elder Bush have concluded that he ran a campaign consistently playing into white voters’ racism.
As Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley told PBS shortly after Bush’s death:
“Bush wanted to see himself as being a man devoid of racism. But the reality is that Bush often had to do dog whistles and appeal to less enlightened Americans on race.”
It is understandable that Bush, who probably saw her husband as a gentleman, would be disgusted by the behavior of Trump — especially when she considers how he treated her son during the campaign. But it is telling that someone who had a front-row seat to two American presidencies seemed so unaware of the values within her own party that she would view Trump as an interloper instead of the next chapter of a continuing story.