As leaders around the world begin paying their respects to the late President George H.W. Bush, current President Donald Trump added his name to the list, tweeting out an official statement and a shorter, more personal tweet, while also declaring Wednesday December 5 a national day of mourning.
In the official statement, Trump praised Bush’s “essential authenticity, disarming wit, and unwavering commitment to faith, family, and country,” noting that he had “inspired generations of his fellow Americans to public service — to be, in his words, ‘a thousand points of light’ illuminating the greatness, hope, and opportunity of America to the world.”
It was a requisite mark of respect from Trump, who has previously made disparaging remarks about the Bush family and mocked H.W.’s campaign rhetoric. The older Republican statesman had little respect in return for Trump — a president whose political style could not be more antithetical from Bush Sr.’s own.
But in death, that tension was washed away; Trump praised Bush in the tweet he sent Saturday morning from the G20 gathering in Argentina, calling him a “truly wonderful man.”
President George H.W. Bush led a long, successful and beautiful life. Whenever I was with him I saw his absolute joy for life and true pride in his family. His accomplishments were great from beginning to end. He was a truly wonderful man and will be missed by all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 1, 2018
The two Republican presidents have a fraught history
At times, drawn to the power of the presidency, Donald Trump sought Bush’s attention, but more often than not, the relationship was antagonistic.
As recently as July, Trump mocked that same “thousand points of light” slogan, asking the crowd at a Montana rally “What the hell was that by the way?” and comparing it to his own:
Thousand points of light. What does that mean? I know one thing. “Make America Great Again” we understand. “Putting America first” we understand. “Thousand points of light,” I never quite got that one. What the hell is that? Has anyone ever figured that one out? It was put out by a Republican, wasn’t it?
The phrase is closely identified with Bush Sr., who used it in his speech accepting the 1988 Republican nomination and in his inaugural address on January 20, 1989; it later became the name of his volunteerism organization. Bush allies hit back at Trump, calling his comments “offensive,” while Points of Light answered Trump’s question in a tweet, explaining that the phrase is about igniting a spirit of volunteerism.
With these words, nearly 3 decades ago, our founder President @GeorgeHWBush ignited a spirit of volunteerism and inspired millions to be points of light in communities around the world. Find out more at https://t.co/AtnCv7ftGk. pic.twitter.com/gF78YE9BX3
— Points of Light (@PointsofLight) July 6, 2018
Bush Sr., meanwhile, had been candid about his disdain for Trump and Trumpism. In his book on the Bush presidencies, The Last Republicans, Mark Updegrove quoted Bush Sr. as saying, “I don’t like him. I don’t know much about him, but I know he’s a blowhard. And I’m not too excited about him being a leader.”
He also revealed that Bush Sr., who did not endorse a candidate in the 2016 election, voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton. As Updegrove told CNN’s Jamie Gangel: “It makes perfect sense. Donald Trump is everything that the Bush family is not.”
Trump appears to be widely disliked within the Bush family, having belittled “low energy” Jeb Bush en route to defeating him in the 2016 Republican primary. (Jeb later hit back, remarking that he goes home to children “who actually love me.”)
Barbara Bush, the late wife of Bush Sr., called Trump a “showman” and said she didn’t understand why people were for him. Much was made of the fact that Trump did not attend Barbara’s funeral in April, spending the weekend in Florida instead — something the president said he did “to avoid disruptions due to added security, and out of respect for the Bush Family.” Melania still attended however, and many suspected that the Bush family had requested Trump stay away. (An unproven assertion.)
Sen. John McCain, another Republican veteran Trump disparaged, did expressly exclude Trump from his funeral. Some speculated something similar might happen with Bush’s memorial services, but Politico reported Saturday morning that Trump will attend the upcoming state funeral.
As Politico staff writer Michael Kruse uncovered in an amusing tweet thread, Trump and Bush Sr. shared other, more comical moments over the years. Back in the days when Bush was the president and Trump was merely a New York real estate mogul, Trump aspired to a relationship with Bush Sr., though still criticized his vision of a “kinder, gentler America.”
Bush was said to have found Trump’s mentioning his availability for vice president in 1988 “strange and unbelievable,” and on a later occasion reportedly shielded his face with a newspaper to avoid interacting with him in an airport.