Earlier this week,
John McCain launched a furious attack on
Donald Trump’s nativist agenda, criticizing his administration’s “half-baked, spurious nationalism.” It was an unprecedented rebuke even from McCain, who has spoken critically of the president in the past. And on Thursday, another big-name—but so far less vocal—Republican followed in McCain’s footsteps with his own impassioned diatribe:
During a speech in New York (and in the spirit of
Michelle Obama), the younger Bush eviscerated the president without mentioning his name. “We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism, forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America,” Bush said. “We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade, forgetting that conflict, instability and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism. We’ve seen the return of isolationist sentiments, forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places.” He went on to denounce “bigotry” and “white supremacy” in any form as “blasphemy against the American creed,” echoing the joint statement he released in the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, which the president largely failed to condemn.
If it hadn't been clear that Bush was speaking to an audience of one, the former president was helpful enough to confirm it: When asked by a reporter after the speech whether he thought his message would make its way to the White House, he reportedly smiled, nodded, and responded, “I think it will.”
His remarks represented a sharp departure from the relative silence he has maintained in the wake of Trump's election. Aside from letting it slip just after the election that he and his wife,
Laura Bush, did not vote for Trump, and allegedly remarking at Trump's inauguration—in between famously wrestling with his rain poncho—that “that was some weird shit,” Bush has stayed quiet when it comes to the man who mercilessly attacked his younger brother on the campaign trail. He displayed similar restraint when it came to
Barack Obama; over the course of Obama's two terms, Bush was more likely to be found painting watercolors of terriers than he was to speak out against the 44th president's political views.
Whether intentionally or not, Bush's speech has also driven many to wax nostalgic about his presidency. The Iraq war did nothing to endear him to Americans, who didn't think much of Bush by the time he left office. But considering the day-to-day of the current administration, there is perhaps no better time for 43 to launch a campaign to rehabilitate his image.
This post has been updated.