The current group of ex-presidents have become chummy after leaving office, despite their political differences (or at least that’s the image they present). But it doesn’t seem they’re going to welcome President Trump into their club.
At the Bush Institute’s Spirit of Liberty event in New York on Thursday, former president George W. Bush delivered a speech filled with veiled attacks on Trump, condemning “bullying and prejudice in our public life,” as well as the isolationism and nationalism that’s taken hold in the White House.
Hours later, former president Barack Obama did the same at events in New Jersey and Virginia, which marked his first appearance on the campaign trail since leaving office.
“Some of the politics we see now, we thought we’d put that to bed. I mean, that’s folks looking 50 years back. It’s the 21st century, not the 19th century,” Obama said during a rally for Phil Murphy, the Democratic candidate for governor of New Jersey.
Obama also took a shot at Trump’s approach to foreign policy. “The world counts on America having its act together. The world is looking to us as an example,” he said. “The world asks what our values and ideals are, and are we living up to our creed.”
Murphy has a 15-point lead over the Republican candidate, state lieutenant governor Kim Guadagno, according to a recent Fairleigh Dickinson University poll, but Obama quipped that Democrats shouldn’t be complacent. “You can’t take this election or any election for granted,” he said. “I don’t know if you all noticed that.”
During a rally in Richmond, Virginia, in support of state lieutenant governor Ralph Northam, who is running to succeed Democrat Terry McAuliffe as governor, Obama made another oblique reference to Trump.
“You’ll notice I haven’t been commenting a lot on politics lately,” Obama said. “But here’s one thing I know: if you have to win a campaign by dividing people, you’re not going to be able to govern them. You won’t be able to unite them later if that’s how you start.”
“Instead of our politics reflecting our values, we’ve got politics infecting our communities,” Obama continued. “Instead of looking for ways to work together to get things done in a practical way, we’ve got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry, to demonise people who have different ideas, to get the base all riled up because it provides a short term tactical advantage.”
Bush refrained from criticizing Obama during his administration, and shortly after the election Obama said he intended to show the same courtesy to his successor, unless “there are issues that have less to do with the specifics of some legislative proposal but go to core questions about our values and our ideals.” Obama has occasionally released statements rebuking Trump, but this is the first time he’s criticized him at a public event since the inauguration.
George W. Bush and his father, former president George H.W. Bush, let it be known that they did not vote for Trump, and they released a statement denouncing white supremacists after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump, who spent the primary season bullying Jeb Bush, doesn’t appear to have much respect for the family, but when asked after his speech if he thought his message would reach the White House, W. smiled and nodded, saying, “I think it will.”