Oil­man brought Trump and Bush worlds to­gether

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Through­out the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, the Bush fam­ily and many of its Repub­li­can al­lies turned their backs on Don­ald Trump. Now, they’re find­ing com­mon cause with Trump over his pick to lead the State De­part­ment: Exxon Mo­bil CEO Rex Tiller­son, who has long or­bited their same po­lit­i­cal, phil­an­thropic and busi­ness worlds.

For­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W Bush, who has largely avoided pol­i­tics since leav­ing of­fice in 2009, heaped praise on Tiller­son in a re­cent phone call to Sen Bob Corker, the Ten­nessee law­maker who will over­see the sec­re­tary of state con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings. Jeb Bush, Tiller­son’s pre­ferred can­di­date in the 2016 race, called the Exxon ex­ec­u­tive a “good man and ac­com­plished leader”.

Dick Cheney, Con­doleezza Rice and Robert Gates Bush’s vice pres­i­dent, sec­re­tary of state and sec­re­tary of de­fense - have all of­fered glow­ing en­dorse­ments. Gates, who runs a con­sult­ing firm with Rice that rep­re­sents Exxon, first put Tiller­son on Trump’s radar when the pres­i­dent-elect was dis­sat­is­fied with his more con­ven­tional op­tions. De­spite the high-level back­ing, Tiller­son faces ob­sta­cles in his path to Foggy Bot­tom. He has no gov­ern­ment ex­pe­ri­ence, hav­ing spent his whole ca­reer at Exxon. Se­na­tors in both par­ties have raised ques­tions about his ties to Russian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, a re­la­tion­ship that’s par­tic­u­larly eye-catch­ing given un­cer­tainty about Trump’s own con­nec­tions to Rus­sia.

Corker said that while the sup­port from the high­est lev­els of the Repub­li­can na­tional se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment won’t wipe away se­na­tors’ ques­tions about Tiller­son, it could ease anx­i­eties. “Most peo­ple will look at that and un­der­stand that he’s not out­side the main­stream,” said Corker, adding that Ge­orge W Bush was “ef­fu­sive” in his praise for Tiller­son when they spoke last week.

Re­jec­tion

While Trump was never fully em­braced by more tra­di­tional Repub­li­cans, his re­jec­tion by the Bush fam­ily and its na­tional se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus was par­tic­u­larly glar­ing. The fam­ily pro­duced the last two Repub­li­can pres­i­dents and had hoped for a third in 2016. The two Bush pres­i­den­cies also de­fined the GOP’s for­eign pol­icy phi­los­o­phy as one that saw over­seas mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion as a means to pre-empt at­tacks on the US and pro­mote democ­racy abroad.

Trump has vowed to take the Repub­li­can Party in a new di­rec­tion, both in style and sub­stance. He showed no rev­er­ence for the Bush fam­ily dur­ing the cam­paign, blast­ing Ge­orge W Bush over the Iraq war and de­rid­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fo­cus on nation build­ing abroad. He was par­tic­u­larly hard on for­mer Florida Gov Jeb Bush, who ran against Trump in the GOP pri­maries.

Trump tran­si­tion of­fi­cials say the Bush fam­ily has not co­or­di­nated its sup­port for Tiller­son with the pres­i­den­t­elect, though Gates and Rice did di­rectly of­fer their sup­port to Trump’s team. Like the Bush fam­ily, Tiller­son has strong ties to Texas and its vast oil in­dus­try. Pres­i­dents Ge­orge H W Bush and Ge­orge W Bush ran oil com­pa­nies be­fore go­ing into pol­i­tics. Tiller­son, a na­tive of Wi­chita Falls, Texas, joined Exxon out of col­lege as a pro­duc­tion en­gi­neer be­fore mov­ing through the oil gi­ant’s ex­ec­u­tive ranks on his way to be­com­ing CEO.

Bonds

The bonds be­tween Texas oil­men can run as deep as their wells. They share the same pol­i­tics, bankroll the same politi­cians, at­tend the same char­ity balls, and, of­ten, talk busi­ness with the same twang. It’s a club of wealth, but also a cul­ture. “If you’re a prom­i­nent fam­ily in Texas, you prob­a­bly are friends with the oil busi­ness,” said Peter Feaver, who worked on the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil in the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and did not sup­port Trump dur­ing the cam­paign. “And if you’re in the oil busi­ness, you’re prob­a­bly friends with prom­i­nent fam­i­lies in Texas.”

Tiller­son’s re­la­tion­ship with the Bush fam­ily dates back at least to Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W Bush’s years as Texas gov­er­nor, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple who know both men. The ties have moved be­yond the po­lit­i­cal realm and into phi­lan­thropy, with some of Exxon’s ef­forts over­lap­ping with Bush’s foun­da­tion, in­clud­ing on women’s em­pow­er­ment is­sues. Tiller­son’s phil­an­thropic work on be­half of Exxon has also over­lapped with Jeb Bush, who pro­moted STEM ed­u­ca­tion - science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math as gov­er­nor of Florida. When Jeb Bush joined the crowded field of Repub­li­cans run­ning for pres­i­dent in 2016, he quickly be­came Tiller­son’s choice. The ex­ec­u­tive do­nated to both Bush’s cam­paign and his su­per PAC.

Cam­paign fi­nance records show Tiller­son has been a reg­u­lar donor to other es­tab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans who cringed at the prospect of Trump be­com­ing the party’s nom­i­nee. He gave money to Mitt Rom­ney, the 2012 GOP pres­i­den­tial cam­paign who Trump also con­sid­ered for sec­re­tary of State. He also do­nated to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, who were luke­warm Trump sup­port­ers at best dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial race. — AP

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