For eight years he sat quiet. He stayed home. He painted. He let his successor do his job. That man is the 43rd president, George W. Bush. Easily one of America’s most complex presidencies, Bush saw unparalleled popularity directly after 9/11 and unparalleled unpopularity upon leaving office in 2009. The economy, national pride and war popularity saw both highs and lows, with Bush’s exit leaving two unfinished wars, a Wall Street crash and a nation wanting to be hopeful about America’s place in the world. Nine years later, history has been much kinder to Bush. Helped by staying quiet during President Barack Obama’s era and touring the country with other ex-presidents, he seems ready to take back the GOP from the bombastic Donald Trump, and his recent comments in Abu Dhabi prove that this current president has awaken Bush, a sleeping giant.
Even though Bush averaged a 49 percent approval rating in his eight years, his exit numbers at 34 percent tied Jimmy Carter and were only above Richard Nixon’s 24 percent. Compare his numbers to Ronald Reagan’s exiting 63 percent approval and Bill Clinton’s 66 percent, and obviously, he’s nearly the least popular modern president. But there was a time after 9/11 when he sat at 90 percent approval, the highest of any president ever. Anyone want to take a guess at who beat that to take the top spot? Not Clinton or Reagan. It was his old man, George H.W. Bush, who, after Desert Storm, sat at 89 percent. Long story short, Bush 43rd had one of the wildest political runs ever.
Showing maturity, Bush made no snarky comments about Obama during the 44th’s presidency. He was a ghost of man who worked with Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton on humanitarian projects ranging from poverty to international influence. While Bush never struck me as a man who wanted to be president, I do believe he wanted to expand America’s influence. The Middle East was just the worst place to start. Now he’s seeing Trump knock down his family’s legacy to start a Trump one, and he’s seeing classical conservative policies and values being destroyed, so he’s fighting back.
Where Trump says Russia’s influence is fake news, Bush digresses with the statement, “There’s pretty clear evidence that the Russians meddled,” which he said at the capital of the United Arab Emirates. “Whether they affected the outcome is another question.” Bush understands that ignoring the evidence is not in America’s best interest, reminding the Abu Dhabi audience, “It’s problematic that a foreign nation is involved in our election system. Our democracy is only as good as people trust the results.”
Bush even went on the attack against Russia’s President Vladimir Putin: “He’s got a chip on his shoulder. . . . The reason he does is because the demise of the Soviet Union troubles him. Therefore, much of his moves (are) to regain Soviet hegemony.”
Those words sound as Reaganesque as possible. If Bush was clear in one area of his presidency, it was in calling out evil leaders and those who put their self-interests above the world’s and America’s.
Bush also stressed the need to back NATO, reminding the crowd that Putin “is pushing, constantly, pushing, probing weaknesses. . . . That’s why NATO is very important.” This is the American exceptionalism we used to be able to define. We are a country who wants to build relationships throughout the world, not break them up.
The former president also reminded the audience that the GOP and America should be friendly to immigrants, as they serve the country in every way. People forget that conservatism was once immigration-friendly, bringing in refugees from Cuba and giving amnesty to immigrants in the 1980s.
“America’s their home,” Bush said. “They’ve got to get [immigration] fixed. There are people willing to do jobs that Americans won’t do,” he said. “We ought to say thank you and welcome them.”
These comments are directly counter to the narrative Trump has proposed. His words are timely and a reminder that conservatism is about unifying through principals that fight evil and help those who help themselves. That was the party of Reagan, and it brought hope and victory, abroad and at home.
Hopefully, Bush’s message reminds the GOP of where it could be again.