John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

Header

Trump and HW

Posted on December 4, 2018
(This originally appeared in The Hill)

I never met George H.W. Bush, never got my picture taken with him, never got a nice note from him.

Lots of my friends and colleagues did though, and from what they tell me, he was a great guy.

I did try to help his failed reelection campaign in 1992 when I worked for House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.), writing floor speeches for members who attacked his opponent and praised his leadership.

When he was the Republican standard-bearer, Papa Bush was despised by the left and derided by the media. I remember distinctly many of us having bumper stickers “Annoy the media, vote for Bush.”

When I was in grad school, I had a Bush-Quayle sticker on the back of my Mazda 323.

I visited my then-girlfriend at the University of Wisconsin campus, and left my poor car on the street overnight, only to see it vandalized by some leftist because I dared to support the GOP ticket.

As a scion of the Protestant ascendancy, Bush was seen not as a fellow traveler by the liberals, but as an impediment to their progressive march to dominate our government.

Times change. The old-line Protestant establishment, what’s left of it, has largely thrown in with the progressives or become anti-Trumpers.

And the current Republican president won the White House because he explicitly rejected the idea of a kinder, gentler America, because he prefers nationalism to internationalism and because he doesn’t believe that our nation should be the world’s policeman.

He also won because he stuck up more for steel workers than for Wall Street, he campaigned against Bush’s NAFTA, and he thinks the Chinese have been ripping us off.

President Trump, in almost every fundamental way, is the antithesis of former President George H.W. Bush. Perhaps that’s why the Bush family, almost as a unit, voted against him in 2016.

Looking at the press reaction today, it’s hard to fathom how George H.W. Bush could have possibly been widely rejected by the American people in his bid to win reelection.

And while it is a cautionary tale for Trump, Bush lost for reasons profoundly different than the troubles that face the current occupant of the Oval Office.

Bush won his first election because he was Ronald Reagan’s vice president and he lost because he alienated the Reagan Democrats and the conservatives who got him there in the first place.

Trump’s problem is not the Reagan Democrats, but the Bush Republicans.

In the eyes of many in the establishment today, Trump is an embarrassing, unqualified blowhard who doesn’t deserve to occupy the same office of a great American like Bush. That is certainly the view of many in the Bush family.

He has lost the remnants of the Republican establishment and it is unlikely that he will get them back. The upper-income Protestants who used to reliably vote for the GOP find Trump morally objectionable and don’t give him credit for expanding their stock portfolios. That is especially the case of well-to-do female voters who despise the president with every ounce of their being.

To avoid the same fate as Bush, Trump has to expand on the new coalition of voters who delivered him to the White House two years ago. While the deplorable label runs deep among the unwashed rabble who love Trump, they aren’t enough to get the president to 50 percent.

So, he has to expose cracks in the Democratic coalition and see if he can attract some of their voters to his side, based on their self-interest and his ideological dexterity.

For example, by championing criminal justice reform, can the president do better among African-American voters? To do so, Trump has to explicitly reject white supremacists who continually endorse him and his tweets.

Pat Buchanan was the first Republican to champion the pillars of the Trump Make America Great Again agenda, when he ran against George H.W. Bush in the 1992 primary campaign.

Well, here we are, more than a quarter century later, and the Buchanan brigades have morphed into the Trump tribe.

Trump, using much of Buchanan’s rhetoric, has taken over the Poppy Bush’s Republican Party. Can he keep it? Only if he does something that Bush couldn’t do: Get himself reelected.