Trump puts aside years of clashes to praise the late pres­i­dent

The Washington Post Sunday - - GEORGE H.W. BUSH, 1924-2018 - BY PHILIP RUCKER AND DAVID NAKA­MURA [email protected]­ david.naka­[email protected]­

BUENOS AIRES — Pres­i­dent Trump hailed Ge­orge H.W. Bush on Satur­day as a “truly won­der­ful man” and an­nounced plans to at­tend his Wash­ing­ton fu­neral, set­ting aside years of an­i­mos­ity with the Bush po­lit­i­cal dy­nasty that he top­pled in his takeover of the Repub­li­can Party.

News of Bush’s death reached Trump dur­ing his visit to the Group of 20 sum­mit here, and the 45th pres­i­dent quickly amended his sched­ule, call­ing off a planned news con­fer­ence out of re­spect for the 41st pres­i­dent and des­ig­nat­ing Wed­nes­day as a na­tional day of mourn­ing.

De­spite deep ac­ri­mony be­tween Trump and the Bush fam­ily, who rep­re­sent di­ver­gent brands of Re­pub­li­can­ism, Trump show­ered praise on Bush’s legacy as a World War II vet­eran and life­long pub­lic ser­vant, a ré­sumé dis­tinctly di­ver­gent from his own.

Trump said he spoke by phone with two of the late pres­i­dent’s sons, for­mer pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush and for­mer Florida gov­er­nor Jeb Bush — who was among the GOP pri­mary can­di­dates Trump van­quished in 2016 — to ex­press his “deep­est sym­pa­thies.” Trump said they dis­cussed the close bond be­tween the sons and their fa­ther.

“Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush led a long, suc­cess­ful and beau­ti­ful life,” Trump wrote Satur­day morn­ing on Twit­ter. “When­ever I was with him I saw his ab­so­lute joy for life and true pride in his fam­ily. His ac­com­plish­ments were great from be­gin­ning to end. He was a truly won­der­ful man and will be missed by all!”

Later Satur­day, Trump told re­porters that he “ex­tended our best wishes” to the Bush fam­ily. Seated along­side Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel for a meet­ing, Trump called the late pres­i­dent “a very fine man.” Trump, who was set to re­turn on Air Force One to Wash­ing­ton by early Sun­day, said he plans to then dis­patch the pres­i­den­tial plane to Houston to col­lect Bush’s cas­ket and bring the for­mer pres­i­dent’s body to Wash­ing­ton.

“I met him on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions,” Trump said. “He was a ter­rific guy and he’ll be missed. He lived a full life and an ex­em­plary life.”

When a re­porter shouted a ques­tion about whether he re­grets his past crit­i­cisms of the Bushes — which in­cluded call­ing the U.S. in­va­sion of Iraq dur­ing Ge­orge W. Bush’s ten­ure “the sin­gle worst de­ci­sion ever made” and re­fer­ring to Jeb as “low-en­ergy” dur­ing the cam­paign — Trump did not re­spond, say­ing only, “Thank you very much, every­body.”

Trump’s praise for the late pres­i­dent came amid an out­pour­ing of re­spect for Bush from politi­cians on both sides of the aisle and in for­eign cap­i­tals. In many ways, the two pres­i­dents were near op­po­sites. Bush spent years serv­ing in the mil­i­tary, fed­eral gov­ern­ment and elected of­fice be­fore win­ning the White House, and he was as finely man­nered and cour­te­ous as Trump is bom­bas­tic and caus­tic.

The White House an­nounced a state fu­neral was be­ing pre­pared for Bush, and Trump’s de­ci­sion, along with first lady Me­la­nia Trump, to at­tend raised the po­ten­tially awk­ward specter of the 45th pres­i­dent sit­ting along­side other po­lit­i­cal fig­ures with whom he has feuded, such as for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama, whom Trump has at­tacked re­peat­edly. In re­sponse, Obama has vig­or­ously de­nounced Trump’s tac­tics and rhetoric on im­mi­gra­tion, race re­la­tions and in­ter­na­tional af­fairs.

The White House also is­sued a pres­i­den­tial procla­ma­tion di­rect­ing that the Amer­i­can flag be dis­played at half-staff on all pub­lic build­ings and grounds, at all mil­i­tary posts, U.S. em­bassies and con­sular of­fices around the world for the next 30 days.

Be­fore a high-stakes work­ing din­ner with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, Trump told re­porters he would be re­turn­ing to Wash­ing­ton shortly af­ter the meet­ing to spend three days pay­ing re­spects to Bush’s legacy, which in­cluded a stint as U.S. en­voy to Bei­jing in 1974-75.

“We look for­ward to do­ing that and he cer­tainly de­serves it, he re­ally does,” Trump said. “He’s a very spe­cial per­son.”

Trump did not at­tend the last ma­jor fu­neral in Wash­ing­ton — that of for­mer se­na­tor John McCain of Ari­zona. The pres­i­dent had long feuded with McCain and den­i­grated his time as a pris­oner of war in Viet­nam, and the McCain fam­ily made clear he was not wel­come at the ser­vices, which were at­tended by for­mer pres­i­dents Obama, Ge­orge W. Bush and Bill Clin­ton.

McCain’s memo­rial ser­vices — which cul­mi­nated with a fu­neral at Wash­ing­ton Na­tional Cathe­dral at­tended by heads of state, mil­i­tary brass and other elites — amounted to an ex­tra­or­di­nary re­pu­di­a­tion of Trump’s pres­i­dency and a melan­choly last hur­rah for what many be­moaned had been lost in the Trump era.

It is un­clear whether the fu­neral of Bush — who as a gen­teel, New Eng­land-bred pa­tri­cian was more re­strained in his crit­i­cism of Trump than the out­spo­ken McCain — will carry the same tone, es­pe­cially with Trump in at­ten­dance.

Trump also did not at­tend the fu­neral of for­mer first lady Bar­bara Bush. Me­la­nia Trump at­tended that ser­vice in Houston, where she posed for a pho­to­graph along with Ge­orge H.W. Bush, Obama, for­mer first lady Michelle Obama, Ge­orge W. Bush, for­mer first lady Laura Bush, Clin­ton and for­mer first lady Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Trump’s words of ad­mi­ra­tion for Ge­orge H.W. Bush cap more than three years of hos­til­ity be­tween the cur­rent pres­i­dent and the Bush fam­ily. Dur­ing the 2016 Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial pri­mary, Trump de­lighted in pre­vail­ing over one­time pre­sumed fron­trun­ner Jeb Bush, who had amassed a mas­sive fi­nan­cial war chest and es­tab­lish­ment en­dorse­ments but was quickly over­shad­owed by the busi­ness mogul and re­al­ity show star.

Yet his dis­mis­sive treat­ment of the fam­ily and dis­re­gard for po­lit­i­cal con­ven­tion prompted Ge­orge H.W. Bush, a life­long Repub­li­can, to with­hold his en­dorse­ment from the GOP nom­i­nee. Bush was re­ported to have voted for the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee, Hil­lary Clin­ton, but a spokesman de­clined to con­firm those re­ports.

Trump’s dis­taste for Bush’s style of pol­i­tics dates back at least three decades. In 1990, as then-Pres­i­dent Bush’s di­plo­macy was bring­ing a peace­ful end to the Cold War, Trump, a Man­hat­tan busi­ness­man with swag­ger­ing am­bi­tion, sat for an in­ter­view with Play­boy. He was asked whether he thought Bush was too soft.

“I like Ge­orge Bush very much and sup­port him and al­ways will,” Trump told the adult mag­a­zine. “But I dis­agree with him when he talks of a kinder, gen­tler Amer­ica. I think if this coun­try gets any kinder or gen­tler, it’s lit­er­ally go­ing to cease to ex­ist. I think if we had peo­ple from the busi­ness com­mu­nity — the Carl Ic­ahns, the Ross Perots — ne­go­ti­at­ing some of our for­eign pol­icy, we’d have re­spect around the world.”

In a state­ment is­sued early Satur­day by the White House, Trump cel­e­brated Bush’s achieve­ments in pub­lic ser­vice, say­ing Bush “in­spired gen­er­a­tions of his fel­low Amer­i­cans to pub­lic ser­vice — to be, in his words, ‘a thou­sand points of light’ il­lu­mi­nat­ing the great­ness, hope, and op­por­tu­nity of Amer­ica to the world.”

That was a de­par­ture from Trump’s com­ments at a Mon­tana rally this past sum­mer, where he mocked the “thou­sand points of light” phrase that Bush had fa­mously used to de­scribe the vol­un­teer spirit of Amer­i­cans.

“You know all of the rhetoric: ‘Thou­sands points of light,’ ” Trump asked the Mon­tana crowd. “What the hell was that? What does that mean? I know one thing: ‘Make Amer­ica great again’ we un­der­stand. ‘Putting Amer­ica First’ we un­der­stand. ‘Thou­sand points of light?’ I never got that one. What the hell is that? Has any­one fig­ured that out?”

Trump’s mock­ery drew con­dem­na­tion from the ex­tended Bush po­lit­i­cal fam­ily. Ari Fleis­cher, a for­mer White House press sec­re­tary for Ge­orge W. Bush, tweeted: “This is so un­called for. Go­ing af­ter a 94-year-old, for­mer Pres­i­dent’s pro­mo­tion of vol­un­teerism. I don’t mind po­tus be­ing a fighter. I do mind him be­ing rude.”

Bush re­strained him­self from en­ter­ing the po­lit­i­cal fray with Trump and weigh­ing in on the 45th pres­i­dent’s daily — and some­times hourly — news cy­cles. But he made clear what he thought of Trump.

“I don’t like him,” Bush said in a May 2016 in­ter­view with Mark K. Upde­grove in his book “The Last Repub­li­cans.” He added that he thought Trump was driven by “a cer­tain ego.”

“I don’t know much about him, but I know he’s a blowhard,” Bush added. “And I’m not too ex­cited about him be­ing a leader.”


The Amer­i­can flag files at half-staff at the White House. Pres­i­dent Trump or­dered flags to stay that way na­tion­wide for 30 days.

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