George P. Bush’s suggestion at a Texas rally that the last two Republican presidents — granddad George H.W. Bush and uncle George W. Bush — could vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton is another remarkable sign of the influential family’s distaste for Donald Trump and a general election they’ve conspicuously sat out.
America’s dominant Republican political dynasty has let the 2016 presidential race’s final months pass with barely a peep. George H.W. Bush, 92, has skipped endorsing his party’s nominee for the first time since leaving the White House in 1993. His son also isn’t publicly taking sides.
Historians say that silence by ex-presidents in an election year is rare. Now the only Bush still in elected office isn’t ruling out Clinton voters in his family.
“I’m the only member of the Bush family that will be voting straight party-ticket Republican,” George P. Bush told a small rally near Austin Tuesday night.
Pressed afterward, the Texas land commissioner and 40-year-old son of vanquished Republican primary candidate Jeb Bush told The Associated Press that he was “speculating, to be honest” about how his uncle and grandfather might vote. But he acknowledged they “potentially” could mark their ballot for Clinton.
Asked why he believed that, George P. Bush told the AP: “Because they haven’t endorsed yet.” He did not elaborate.
There are no indications of an endorsement coming from the former Bush presidents with less than a week until Tuesday’s election. A spokesman for George W. Bush declined to comment Wednesday. A spokesman for George H.W. Bush did not immediately return a message.
It’s hardly difficult to fathom why the Bushes would spurn a nominee who has upended and divided the party they defined for decades.
Trump has bashed the Bush family’s legacy, particularly the unpopular Iraq war under George W. Bush, who said while campaigning for brother Jeb that America doesn’t “need somebody in the Oval Office who mirrors and inflames our anger and frustration.” He did not mention Trump by name.
Early on, former first lady Barbara Bush condemned Trump’s comments to and about women well before a clip surfaced in October of his vulgar 2005 conversation with Billy Bush — her nephew. “I don’t know how women can vote for someone who said what he said about Megyn Kelly. It’s terrible,” she told CBS News in February, referring to Trump’s attacks on the Fox News anchor.
Her son Jeb was still in the race at that point, but he didn’t last long, dropping out of the Republican primaries in February. The billionaire businessman as recently as October was still swiping at his onetime rival as “low energy.” Jeb Bush has said he won’t vote for either Trump or Clinton.
That leaves Jeb’s son, George P. Bush, whose political career is just beginning, as the only one in the family openly endorsing Trump. He seemed to doubt that his family’s lack of support was weighing on the minds of party faithful.
“The Trump candidacy has been disruptive and that’s what has attracted new Republicans to the polls. So not having the endorsement has not been a deal-breaker for a lot of voters,” George P. Bush said.
Former presidents have generally endorsed their party’s nominee, but there are instances of some dragging their feet or distancing themselves, said Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. Another historian, Mark Updegrove, director of the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, said a situation in which former presidents do not endorse their party’s nominee is “virtually unprecedented.”
“It’s protecting the Republican brand they’ve been such a part of,” Perry said of the Bushes. “Because they’re statesmen and gentlemen they’re not going to come out and speak harshly of Trump.”
Milling around a dance hall while waiting for George P. Bush, some Republican voters said they hadn’t taken notice of the elder Bushes’ silence. But they believed an endorsement would go a long way to unify a fractured party.
“All these people look up to the Bush family for guidance,” said Luis Landeros, an attorney. “I think it would’ve made it easier for people.”
Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber