Donald Trump ran the most dishonest presidential campaign in modern memory. But every so often, the mogul would take a break from spouting baseless conspiracy theories and demonstrable lies to speak a vital truth — usually, one that highlighted what a horrendous President George W. Bush had been.
During the GOP primary, Trump repeatedly observed that the last Republican president had not, in fact, “kept us safe.” The mogul further noted that Bush’s foreign policy had made the Middle East a less stable place — at a cost of trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives. The president reiterated this critique, albeit indirectly, in his remarks before the Conservative Political Action Conference last week.
“We’ve spent trillions of dollars overseas, while allowing our own infrastructure to fall into total disrepair and decay,” Trump told CPAC. “And by the way, the Middle East is in — I mean, it’s not even close, it’s in much worse shape than it was 15 years ago. If our presidents would have gone to the beach for 15 years, we would be in much better shape than we are right now, that I can tell you.”
On Monday, George W. Bush offered some (similarly fair) criticism of Trump’s first month in office, albeit in more measured terms. Asked about the president’s recent claim that the (“fake news”) media is “the enemy of the American people,” Bush told the Today show’s Matt Lauer, “I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy … We need an independent media to hold people like me to account. Power can be very addictive, and it can be corrosive.”
Bush noted that Trump’s rhetoric undermines America’s capacity to censure authoritarian regimes overseas for their attacks on press freedom. “It’s kind of hard to tell others to have an independent free press if we’re not willing to have one ourselves,” Bush said.
The former president also expressed his disapproval of Trump’s travel ban, saying, “I am for an immigration policy that is welcoming and upholds the law” and suggesting that the order’s focus on Muslim-majority nations undermined “the bedrock of our freedom — a bedrock of our freedom is the right to worship freely.”
Finally, Bush said “we all need answers” about the Trump campaign’s connections to the Russian government, though he declined to call for a special prosecutor to look into the matter.
Generally speaking, former presidents try to refrain from criticizing the current occupant of the Oval Office too harshly. It is especially unusual for a former president to criticize an active commander-in-chief who belongs to his own political party.
So, Bush’s decision to voice his reservations about Trump’s attitude toward Islam and the Fourth Estate is significant — and, for those who wish to defend the norms of our liberal democracy, somewhat helpful.
Of course, if Bush really wanted to be a help in that regard, he could go back in time and avoid spending eight years hyping the threat of jihadist terrorism; undermining basic civil liberties; waging a disastrous war that discredited America’s political Establishment; ignoring a housing bubble that, eventually, discredited America’s economic Establishment; and drastically increasing the powers of the Executive branch.
But putting in a good word for the First Amendment on the Today show is almost as good. So, let’s just go ahead and say, “Mission Accomplished.”