Former President George W. Bush came out of hiding last week to endorse several Republican senators whose reelection campaigns are wobbling ominously in the wake of his party’s presumptive presidential nominee.
The 43rd president recently headlined fundraisers for Senators John McCain of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and will soon repeat the act for Senators Roy Blunt of Missouri, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Bush spokesman Freddy Ford told NBC News, “President Bush believes that it’s critical to keep the Senate in Republican hands. He is actively helping some senators in tight races who are strong leaders and share timeless conservative values.”
Bush, 69, has been mostly absent from the political stage since his presidency ended in 2009. The threat Trump poses to Republican control of the Senate is apparently strong enough to have rousted him from retirement.
It could also be personal: Trump has made a mockery of the Republican Party. He has said Bush lied his way into Iraq in 2003, and held Bush responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Trump also treated Bush’s younger brother, Jeb, with ruthless contempt during the latter’s own presidential bid earlier this cycle.
Both Bushes and their father, President George H.W. Bush, are withholding endorsements and will be skipping their party’s convention in Cleveland next month.
Trump Sees Conspiracies Everywhere
The New York Times reports Trump, on Thursday, said he doesn’t mind Bush’s volunteerism. “I like that he’s helping certain Republicans,” he said, noting that Bush’s brother “had a great chance to beat me,” and failed. But by Saturday night, the Washington Post reported that Trump was spinning in the throes of a conspiracy theory that he believed Jeb Bush was helping to orchestrate. Trump said he is the target of a “revolt,” and named Bush as a member of an “opposition” movement against him being waged by high profile Republicans.
“By the way, Jeb is working on the movement, just so you understand. I love competition like that. I love it,” said Trump. “And the other one should be obvious to you, but we’ll figure that out very easily.”
Whether Trump was referring to George W. Bush as a possible co-conspirator, or someone else, we don’t know. He might have meant Ted Cruz, as the Post observed. Either way, the Times reports friends of Bush say the former president rejects Trump’s campaign rhetoric — particularly his repugnant comments about immigrants and Muslims.
John McCain Is Losing The Hispanic Vote
On Monday, during the “Roundtable Discussion” with Sen. McCain — tickets cost $2,700, the maximum allowed donation from an individual to a campaign — Bush described maintaining the Republican-held Senate as a crucial “check and balance” on the White House, regardless of who becomes the next Commander in Chief.
McCain, who Trump dishonored last year when he said prisoners of war aren’t heroes because they were captured, reluctantly endorsed the billionaire earlier this month, demanding an apology that he never got. Weeks before the endorsement Politico quoted McCain saying, “If Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket, here in Arizona, with over 30 percent of the vote being the Hispanic vote, no doubt that this may be the race of my life.”
Trump has acted like he doesn’t want the Hispanic vote since day one, when he launched his campaign with the now infamous speech in which he called Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers. Other cornerstones of his campaign include constructing an impossible border wall between the U.S. and Mexico and mass-deportation of illegal immigrants. Then, citing a supposed conflict of interest his own policies had created, Trump said that Judge Gonzalo Curiel, whose parents were born in Mexico, was unfit to preside over a lawsuit against Trump University.
In Arizona, Latinos comprise 22 percent of eligible voters. “If you listen or watch Hispanic media in the state and in the country, you will see that it is all anti-Trump,” McCain said. “The Hispanic community is roused and angry in a way that I’ve never seen in 30 years.”
Maria Teresa Kumar, president and CEO of Voto Latino, told Politico, “I would argue that we are living a [Prop.] 187 moment at a national level,” referring to the 1994 ballot measure in California that rendered illegal immigrants ineligible for public benefits, and was eventually ruled unconstitutional. “It’s very, very tough for a senator to get out of that,” she said.
Kica Matos, director of immigrant rights and racial injustice at the Center for Community Change Action, told Politico “The bottom line is that there is a price to be paid for belonging to a party that explicitly endorses a very virulent anti-immigrant agenda.”
“You can’t divorce John McCain from the person who is more likely than not the Republican presidential nominee,” she said.
Bush might be able to help McCain, thought it’s a long shot. As president, Bush was popular among Latinos, primarily for his (unsuccessful) efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation. In the 2004 presidential election Bush won 44 percent of the demographic — a Republican record. Former United States Treasurer Rosario Marin told NBC Latino, “The legacy that Bush has left is showing that Latino voters are malleable. A majority vote Democratic, but they are persuadable to vote Republican as well.”
McCain’s Democratic challenger, former congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, has been steadily moving in on the senator’s Republican constituency, while his numbers have dropped eight points since January. McCain also faces the ultra-conservative Kelli Ward, a Tea Partier who was recently endorsed by former Texas congressman Ron Paul, the Libertarian-leaning Republican presidential candidate in 2008 and 2012. Ron Paul’s base doesn’t generally get out to Bush fundraisers very often.
Fed Up In New Hampshire
Last week, Bush campaigned for New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who recently came under fire for towing the line in support of Trump. Ayotte has publicly disapproved of Trump’s offensive statements, and has said her backing the presumptive candidate is not contingent on an official endorsement. Nonetheless, the Associated Press reports her Democratic challenger, Gov. Maggie Hassan, told reporters last month, “He (Trump) is dangerous to the country,” and said she is “appalled that Sen. Ayotte is supporting him.”
Hassan said Ayotte “will need to be held accountable for Donald Trump’s statements and positions.”
Politico reports Ayotte and Hassan are about even in the polls.
New Hampshire is home to a historically independent electorate. A May WBUR poll found the presumptive nominees are tied, but 43 percent of voters think Clinton is better positioned to improve the United States’ standing in the world, compared to Trump’s 31 percent.
Despite Trump’s having won the New Hampshire primary by a wide margin, privately Ayotte has expressed concern about Trump’s potential for having a negative effect on down-ballot candidates. Ayotte’s campaign has criticized her opponent for raising money out of state, and for not doing enough to deal with the heroin epidemic in New Hampshire. They’ve also made combative use of a sex-abuse scandal at the prep school where Hassan’s husband was headmaster.
Holding Wisconsin To Account
Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who will host Bush at an upcoming fundraiser, has found himself in a similar predicament in regard to his half-support for Trump. Johnson is battling for reelection against former Sen. Russ Feingold, and seems willing to take all the help he can get.
Feingold is a household name in the region and is leading in the polls. He has also out-raised Johnson by nearly a million dollars. Johnson’s biggest concern is his party affiliation, as Wisconsin, where Clinton is leading Trump by nine points, tends to vote blue in presidential cycles.
In March, Johnson told CNN he was open to campaigning with the presumptive GOP nominee. “Stump with Trump?” he said. “Just because it rhymes: It’d be the Ronald [and] the Donald.”
“From what I’ve heard,” Johnson said, “Trump is running very strong up in the Northwest [portion of Wisconsin] … That should also help me a bit too.”
But this month, Johnson found himself compelled to distance himself ever-so-slightly from the billionaire. A spokesman for Feingold said Johnson should condemn Trump, and he did. Newsmax reports a spokesman for Johnson said Trump should retract comments he made about a Federal judge’s Mexican heritage. “Ron disagrees, just as he has in the past,” Johnson spokesman Brian Reisinger said.
Johnson has expressed disapproval of Trump’s plan to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., but backs him nonetheless. But that isn’t an endorsement, the campaign insists, which of course makes no sense at all. It’s very Trumpian — this business of endorsements that aren’t endorsements. And I suppose that’s appropriate; Trump probably thinks it’s genius. His modus operandi dictates: Tell them what they need to hear. Be un-specific. You can always replant the flag in Donald Trump’s America.
Indeed. Though, shockingly, Johnson’s position didn’t satisfy the Feingold people.
Feingold spokesman Michael Tyler brought up Johnson’s earlier declaration to withdraw support from Trump, if the business mogul crosses a major line. “It’s clear from [Johnson’s] response that racist comments from Trump don’t rise to that level for Sen. Johnson,” Tyler said.
The same could be said for the entire GOP establishment, which is stricken with conviction — all hands are tied with belief in the “conservative cause,” apparently, which is why they haven’t flatly denounced Trump, and why they can look past the racism, and bigotry, and now-inescapable association with white supremacy. They could work with Trump, they say.
In regard to his plans with Bush, Johnson told the New York times he has never spoken with the former president, and is looking forward to the event. “All the Bushes are people of integrity,” he said.
Right. Next week, Bush will attend a fundraiser for Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, in St. Louis, and has already been confirmed for an August appearance in Ohio, a key swing state where he’ll be supporting Sen. Rob Portman, who faces a tough reelection campaign against Democrat Jason Kander.
As Politico observed, Missouri Democrats like Kander, a former Secretary of State who served in Afghanistan. The state has been moving to the right, but in April the Kansas City Star reported Clinton holding a narrow, two point lead over Trump.
Blunt told the Times he is pleased Bush is coming to his aid. “He hasn’t given a political speech since he left, so I am interested to hear what he has to say,” Blunt said, adding that, “In Missouri he is still very popular, as he is more and more all over the country.”
This is at least half-true. Although Bush left office with an approval rating of 34 percent, the Times reports a February poll from Quinnipiac University found 47 percent of Americans now view the 43rd president favorably, and a Bloomberg Politics national poll taken last November showed 77 percent of Republicans gave Bush a favorable rating.
Sen. Portman’s campaign manager, Cory Bliss, told CNN, “The enthusiasm behind our campaign grows each day and we are excited to have President George W. Bush join us in Ohio and lend his support this summer.”
Portman served two terms in the Bush administration, accumulating a record the Ohio Democratic Party was quick to call “disastrous.”
Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Daniel van Hooogstraten said, “Senator Portman is hoping that President Bush can distract from the damaging effect of Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, “but all it’s going to do is remind voters of Portman’s decades-long record in Washington of pushing the interests of the wealthy and well-connected he serves at Ohio’s expense.”
Politico reports Strickland is struggling. Portman has out-raised him and is running a tight data and digital campaign while focusing on the Democrat’s gubernatorial jobs record and support for the Iran nuclear deal.
But Democrats are hopeful. A CBS News Battleground Poll released in May showed Clinton beating Trump in Ohio, 44 to 39 percent. Strickland’s campaign is highlighting Portman’s history as a pro-trade politician, which Trump supporters — hell bent on making America great again — will likely loathe.
A CBS News Battleground Poll released in May showed Clinton beating Trump in Ohio, 44 to 39 percent. Clinton is also beating Trump nationally. A CBS poll released Thursday gave the former Secretary of State a six point advantage on the billionaire, and sustained her lead when Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson was included. The poll also asked which presumptive nominee voters thought could better handle terrorism and national security: Clinton bested Trump, 50 to 43 percent.
Voters are unhappy with both candidates, primarily because of Clinton’s use of a private email server and Trump’s race-driven slander against the federal judge.
So it makes sense that Bush would be forced out of retirement to pick up the candidate’s slack. Reuters reports Busś’s phone was ringing off the hook with pleas for help from GOP Senate candidates.
Trump, as the presumptive nominee, is falling short on fundraising duties, and is quite obviously not carrying the conservative torch — or any torch at all. Donald Trump has been incredibly lucky, ambling through darkness, leading us all who knows where.
Trump has united many Republicans with Democrats out of fear and anger, and from that anxious unity the 43rd President of the United States has emerged to reluctantly turn on his old Texas charm and rattle the bank.
Republicans control 54 seats of the 100-member Senate.
Dana Perino, who was Bush’s White House press secretary, told Reuters she thinks “this is a one-off, temporary thing that where he can be helpful he will be.”
Kristy Campbell, spokeswoman for Jeb Bush, who is also raising money for congressional candidates, said “The Bush family has a deep love for the party and cares about the future and in light of Trump’s capacity to damage the brand, I think this is part and parcel of doing what they can to preserve the party.”
On Wednesday, in Greensboro, North Carolina, Trump whined about Jeb’s not following through with a campaign trail pledge to back whoever would become the Republican nominee.
“He signed the pledge but he hasn’t endorsed me,” Trump said.
Photo: Former U.S. President George W. Bush (L) joins his brother Republican U.S. presidential candidate Jeb Bush (R) on the campaign trail for the first time in the 2016 campaign at a rally in North Charleston, South Carolina February 15, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst