Former President George W. Bush is reconstitute the group next month for a fundraiser for struggling Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney to take the Republican Party back from former President Donald Trump.
It is the latest front in a GOP civil war in which the two most recent party presidents are the most prominent figures.
The Cheney fundraiser features not only the 43rd President, but also well-known Bush White House alumni such as Karl Rove, Karen Hughes and Harriet Miers, in addition to former Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.
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Cheney, the daughter of Bush Vice President Dick Cheney, was stripped earlier this year as the third House Republican because of her relentless criticism of Trump. She was one of 10 House Republicans who voted for her second impeachment after the Jan.6 riot on Capitol Hill. She and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois are the two Republicans handpicked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to sit on the Democrats’ Jan.6 committee.
Trump has relentlessly targeted the 10th, recently applause there were “9 to go” when Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez refused to be re-elected.
Cheney fundraiser pits Team Bush against Harriet Hageman, backed by Trump. Hundreds of former Bush aides and the late Arizona Senator John McCain, GOP flag bearer in 2008, supported the Democrat ticket on Trump in 2020.
But it’s not all a personal or family grudge match. Trump broke with Bush’s trade, immigration and foreign policy policies, firmly opposing amnesty for most illegal immigrants and calling the war in Iraq a “big, big mistake.” Trump was in favor of a more aggressive Afghanistan withdrawal schedule than President Joe Biden. Bush warned that “the consequences are going to be incredibly bad and sad.”
Bush mostly remained silent during President Barack Obama’s presidency, but under Trump he began to distance himself from the GOP leadership. “I don’t like racism, and I don’t like slurs, and I don’t like people feeling alienated,” Bush said more than a month after Trump’s inauguration. Bush reportedly described Trump’s speech at that 2017 event as “weird shit.”
“We have seen nationalism distorted into nativism – forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America,” Bush said in a speech to his institute later that year. “We see a loss of confidence in the value of free markets and international trade, forgetting that conflict, instability and poverty follow protectionism.”
Bush also criticized Trump’s style, denouncing “discourse degraded by occasional cruelty.” He also complained, “Our politics seem more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”
Even after Trump left, Bush expressed concern in an interview earlier this year that the Republican Party has become “isolationist, protectionist and, to some extent, nativist.” As he walked backwards, he appeared to invoke January 6 and some of the political tendencies of the Trump era that he didn’t like in his 20th anniversary speech of the September 11 attacks earlier this month.
“And we have seen growing evidence that dangers to our country can come not only from borders, but also from the violence that gathers within. There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists in the world. ‘foreign and violent extremists at home,’ he said. “But in their contempt for pluralism, in their contempt for human life, in their determination to sully national symbols, they are like-minded children. And it is our constant duty to confront them.”
Bush is perhaps the biggest name in GOP politics to stand in the way of Trump. McCain died in 2018. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, has seen his stance with the Conservatives take a hit. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has become a staunch ally of Trump.
But the personal motivations behind this feud as well as Bush’s direct political confrontation with Trump have not always worked. Trump has repeatedly used former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the 43rd president’s younger brother, as a punching bag during debates in the 2014-16 Republican primary.
The former president came to South Carolina to campaign for his brother in a last-ditch attempt to reject Trump’s nomination and to keep Jeb’s quest for the presidency alive. “I understand Americans are angry and frustrated, but we don’t need someone in the Oval Office who reflects and ignites our anger and frustration,” Bush’s older brother said.
Trump had targeted Bush’s foreign policy legacy squarely in a debate, seen as a risky move in the conservative and military Palmetto state. “The World Trade Center collapsed during your brother’s reign. Remember that,” Trump said. He accused the ex-president of lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Trump went on to win the South Carolina primary, finishing 10 percentage points ahead of his closest rival en route to the nomination and the White House. Jeb Bush was fourth, with 7.8% of the vote and less than 60,000 votes overall. He gave up the next day.
There is no recent precedent for two presidents of the same party, whose administrations were so close to each other, having this acrimonious relationship or such blatant ideological differences.
Republican agents told the Washington Examiner they had reservations about this clash of the titans, given that both Bush and Trump left office with declining popularity. Bush presided over the 2007-08 financial crisis and worsening Iraq war, leaving office with a 22% approval rating in a CBS News /New York Times survey. Trump has never exceeded 50% approval in poll averages and has seen his reputation damaged by the pandemic.
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“It may not be a winning combination,” said a GOP strategist. “We need new blood, and I hope we get it.”
Original location: Bush and Trump become central figures in GOP civil war
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