Bush, speaking at the George W. Bush Institute-hosted “Spirit of Liberty” forum in New York City, outlined what he said were “new and serious threats” to democracy.
He didn’t mention Trump by name. But much of the speech was a rebuke of the ethos of the pro-Trump movement. Bush condemned the trend of “nationalism distorted into nativism.” He criticized blanket rejections of globalization, arguing that “conflict, instability and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism.” He condemned anti-immigrant rhetoric, reminding his audience of the “the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.” He lamented that bigotry now “seems emboldened” and that “our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”
Some of Bush’s barbs were even more sharply pointed at the president.
“Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children,” he said. “The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.”
He explicitly condemned white supremacy, something many Republicans, including Trump, have failed to do.
“Bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed,” Bush said.
But Bush failed to acknowledge his own significant role in the rise of Trump.
As Ryan Grim and Alexander Zaitchik wrote for HuffPost earlier this year, policies implemented by Bush and his administration “created the conditions that brought Trump to power.”
The rise of nationalism and the rejection of globalization, for example, is directly tied to the economic anxiety that followed the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Many of the key factors in Trump’s appeal to voters — including his promises to bring back jobs from overseas — can be linked to conditions created by the recession.
Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, meanwhile, had catastrophic ripple effects in the Middle East and beyond, spurring recruitment for extremist organizations, which in turn fueled the Islamophobia that helped propel Trump into office.
“Without Bush’s two most fateful decisions ― letting Wall Street run amok and invading Iraq ― it’s hard to imagine Trump’s metamorphosis from a second-rate reality TV star to president of the United States,” Grim and Zaitchik wrote.
And while Bush has publicly supported a “compassionate” approach to immigration reform, he also approved construction of a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, a precursor to Trump’s proposed border wall — his signature campaign promise.
Bush also failed to mention his support for a current GOP candidate who openly embraces many of Trump’s most xenophobic and nativist proclivities.
Ed Gillespie, a former Bush adviser, is running for Virginia governor, and is largely seen as an “establishment” Republican. But in an apparent play to attract the Trump-supporting base, Gillespie has been running racist, fear-mongering ads, as Vox outlines. In one misleading ad, for example, Gillespie ties his opponent, Democratic nominee Ralph Northam, to violence perpetuated by the predominantly Latino MS-13 gang, leaning heavily on race-baiting rhetoric about so-called sanctuary cities.
Bush is raising money for Gillespie and appearing alongside the gubernatorial candidate at several events.