President Donald Trump and his political lieutenants are privately hoping that former President George W. Bush will endorse Joe Biden this cycle, creating a bizarre confluence of interests with an increasing number of Democrats who are hoping for the same.
To Team Trump, a Bush endorsement of Biden would allow them to hitch a formerly unpopular GOP president and the personification of dynastic politics to the Democratic Party’s 2020 ticket. They believe that Bush’s backing would drive the progressive wing of the party into a tizzy, especially if the Democratic nominee were to accept and promote it, creating internal strife for Biden at a time when he needs unity.
According to two people familiar with his private remarks on the matter, Trump has said it would be “fun” if he could effectively run against both Bush and Biden. These sources with knowledge of the president’s thinking say he views both Biden and Bush as emblematic of the political establishment that he successfully ran against in the last election, and that Trump continues to harbor a visceral distaste for members of the Bush family and administration.
“We would LOVE him to officially endorse Biden,” messaged a source close to the White House adding it “would be such a gift to us” citing the 43rd president’s legacy on trade, big government policies, and “constant war.”
One senior Trump campaign official even said that some on the team “desperately” wanted the 43rd president of the United States to come out for Biden 2020, as it would make for easy messaging fodder. “I imagine we want it about as much as a lot of Biden people would not want it,” the official said.
The New York Times reported Saturday that, among other Republicans struggling with an endorsement decision, the former president would not support Trump’s re-election efforts, citing people familiar with the situation. A spokesman for Bush told The Texas Tribune that the Times’ assertion was “false.”
Bush certainly left the White House as a deeply unpopular figure, under the cloud of disastrous wars, various scandals, and a cratered economy. But his standing has improved in his years away from the political scene, including among Democratic voters. And on the few occasions he has waded back into public life, he has conveyed a more socially conscious approach to national affairs, including offering his recent support for ending systemic racism in police forces. Over time, the previously unthinkable has begun to happen, with prominent Democrats warming up to him and—now—the idea that an endorsement from him could provide an assist to the Democrats’ White House chances.
“Our task is to build the broadest coalition possible,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), a leading House progressive and former co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) presidential campaign, told The Daily Beast about a hypothetical endorsement. “I began my career in public service running against Bush’s war in Iraq in 2004. But no one doubts his commitment to tolerance and inclusiveness.”
Khanna argued that Bush is in a “different moral league” than Trump, particularly in regard to the latter’s fondness for promoting “divisiveness” and “fearmongering.”
“His endorsement would help to highlight the enormous stakes in 2020 for our democracy,” he said.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a top Biden booster, said he would “welcome” the endorsement, arguing that the public embracing of a high-profile Republican could have an electoral upside in critical swing states.
“Ninety percent of Trump’s vote is the base. And the base isn’t going to care what George Bush says,” Rendell said. “Then there’s the 10 percent of Independents, suburban Republicans that stuck with him. … The question is: what effect does a George Bush endorsement have with them? I’d say, it adds weight to the entire picture that’s growing. I don’t think there’s any blowback on our side.”
It is unclear if Bush will end up endorsing anyone for president this year, and he could very well sit on the sidelines and merely refuse to publicly support Trump’s reelection. According to a New York Times story published this weekend, Bush “won’t support the re-election of Mr. Trump.” But a Bush spokesperson told The Texas Tribune that the detail in the Times’ piece was “false.”
Bush is hardly a Republican turncoat, having fundraised for conservative House and Senate candidates in the 2018 midterm elections in an effort to help preserve GOP congressional majorities—which, had it been successful in the House, would have preserved Trump’s sway on Capitol Hill. But his distaste for Trump has been evident for some time. And, in this case, the animus goes both ways. Two White House officials said they simply couldn’t care what Bush did or didn’t do ahead of this election, casting him as a trivial media obsession.
“Elections are about the future, not the past,” said Ed Brookover, a former senior Trump adviser during the 2016 race. “President Bush performed well during his two terms, but people judge today’s candidates in today’s world. President Trump receives support from many voters who supported President Bush, as well as voters he pulled into his own orbit. President Trump’s policies and actions represent a new brand of leadership, which America has been needing for quite a while.”
For Biden, the risks of accepting a Bush endorsement are fairly clear. The association with the Iraq War (which Biden supported), the use of torture, and the handling of Hurricane Katrina, alone, represents a heaping of political baggage that could outweigh any benefit. And some progressives were clear that they would struggle with having a president they had deeply reviled in their proverbial corner.
“George W. Bush is a war criminal who lied to the American people in order to illegally invade a country. If nothing else, for that reason alone, I would never support accepting his endorsement,” said Charlotte Clymer, a LGBTQ activist who previously backed Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and has since thrown her weight behind Biden.
But even Clymer found a bigger upside to the idea of an endorsement for party purposes, saying she wouldn’t be surprised to see Biden accept it “in order to remove our greatest national security threat in modern history: Donald Trump.”
And among more establishment Democrats, the choice to welcome a potential boost from Bush now was seen as a no-brainer. “No one can ever accuse me of being a fan of former President George W. Bush,” said Jim Manley, a longtime senior Democratic Senate aide who served as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s spokesman during the latter Bush years. “But as far as I’m concerned, it would be fantastic if he were to come out and support the vice president. It would serve as a powerful rebuke to the current president.”
James Carville, a former top adviser to President Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign who is now advising the pro-Biden Democratic group American Bridge, responded enthusiastically about the prospect of a Bush endorsement for the presumptive Democratic nominee.
“I fought with these guys during impeachment, I fought with these guys on the Iraq War, I fought with these guys left and right,” Carville said. “We’re in a different situation now. We have a deadly pathogen that’s infected this country and we got to get rid of it.”
Put another way, Carville said: “What did Churchill say? ‘If Hitler invaded hell, I would side with the devil.’”