George W. Bush Could Save America From Donald Trump

A decision to cross party lines by the former president, notwithstanding his differences with the Democratic nominee, would have real power.
Former President George W. Bush <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/georgewbushcenter/30137165500/" target="_blank">visits
Former President George W. Bush visits Briscoe Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas, on October 19, 2016. (Via Creative Commons, Some Rights Reserved)

There’s one person who could stop Donald Trump’s surging campaign in its tracks: George W. Bush. That the former president has not given any indication that he is inclined to do so is a great shame. Now, two days before Election Day, time is running out for him to do his part to help avert a national disaster.

Last week, George P. Bush — nephew of George W., grandson of George H.W., and son of early Trump victim Jeb — was asked whether his presidential uncle and presidential grandfather might be Hillary Clinton voters. He answered: “Potentially. But hard to speculate.” George P., an ambitious young Texas politician and the only Bush backing Trump, later clarified: “I don’t know how they voted. I’m speculating, to be honest.”

We don’t, however, need to speculate about how the two former President Bushes feel about their party’s presidential nominee. Both were no-shows at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and have declined to endorse Trump.

And it’s not just their omissions that are telling.

In August, the younger President Bush, speaking at a private political fundraiser, decried policies of “isolationism, nativism, and protectionism.” He didn’t mention Trump by name, but it was clear whom he was talking about.

Then in September, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, caused a small stir when she posted on her Facebook page that the elder President Bush had told her he would be voting for Clinton. In response, the former president’s spokesman said that his boss is a “private citizen” casting a “private vote” and “is not commenting on the presidential race.”

Indeed, both former President Bushes have maintained an official policy of silence on the Clinton-Trump contest.

It’s time for them to break their silence, for America’s sake.

Trump is closing in on Clinton in key battleground states. The unthinkable prospect of a Trump victory suddenly seems terrifyingly possible.

Unfortunately, when it comes to delivering the needed blow that would dampen enthusiasm for Trump on the right, those who can won’t, and those who would can’t.

Republican elected officials are reticent to stand up to Trump. Few have done so with much vigor. None of any consequence stand with the only person who can stop Trump: Hillary Clinton. No doubt Republican office-holders fear the wrath of their party’s base. But with what is at stake in this election, Republicans’ unwillingness to do the right thing is unforgivable.

Meanwhile, the unprecedented threat that Trump presents to American democracy has led rock-ribbed Republican newspapers that never endorse Democrats to break with long partisan traditions. Numerous conservative pundits are sounding the alarm that a Trump presidency would endanger America’s constitutional order. But rank-and-file Republicans have been mostly deaf to the cries of newspaper editorialists and columnists.

George W. Bush, though, could stand up to Trump and actually be heard by Republican voters.

Imagine a news conference at the 11th hour of this dolorous election in which the former president announces that he is supporting Clinton. Yes, Bush would need to acknowledge that he and Clinton disagree greatly on a great many issues. But the significance of their deep disagreements pales in comparison to the profound danger that a Trump presidency poses to all that is good in America.

To be sure, Trump would try to spin such a move as a last-ditch effort at self-preservation by a “corrupt political establishment.” And such a characterization would have some resonance.

But a broadside from Bush would not be so easy for Trump to brush off. After a polarizing eight years in the White House, Bush has earned respect and affection with a dignified post-presidency. Last year, a CNN/ORC poll found that the younger President Bush was regarded favorably by 52 percent of Americans. He was particularly popular among demographics that are supporting Trump: 88 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of conservatives viewed Bush favorably.

A decision to cross party lines by the former president, notwithstanding his differences with the Democratic nominee, would have real power. Such a dramatic gesture would underscore the aberrant and toxic nature of Trump’s candidacy and demonstrate that Clinton is the far safer choice.

I suspect that Bush believes that Clinton is preferable to Trump. Several of his Cabinet members — former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff — are backing Clinton, as are numerous lower-level officials from his and his father’s administrations. They all know that the next president is either going to be Clinton or Trump, and God help us if it’s Trump.

If George W. Bush breaks his silence, history will remember him as a hero of the 2016 election, a man who put country over party and transcended the poisonous partisanship that has brought America to the edge of the abyss.

There is perhaps no other figure with the same ability to play this role.

And given the stakes, those who can must. Anything less is unconscionable.

CONVERSATIONS