BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — President Donald Trump, who had a
hostile relationship with the last Republican family to occupy
the White House, offered nothing but praise on Saturday for
former President George Bush after he died at age 94, and the
White House said the president would attend the funeral.
Trump plans to call former President George W. Bush, the son of
the 41st commander in chief, to offer his condolences, the
White House said in a statement. A state funeral is being
arranged and Trump will designate Wednesday as a national day
of mourning. Trump and the first lady will attend the funeral
at the Washington National Cathedral.
“President George H.W. Bush led a long, successful and
beautiful life,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday morning.
“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!”
Trump’s words of admiration, delivered while in Argentina for
an international summit meeting, belied his history of
animosity with the Bush family. Trump eviscerated Bush’s son
Jeb Bush during the 2016 Republican primaries and regularly
disparaged another of his sons, former President George W.
Bush, for the way he ran the country. The elder Bush refused to
support Trump in 2016, voting instead for Hillary Clinton.
The passing of the former president had raised the thorny
question of whether Trump would come to the funeral. Sen. John
McCain, another stalwart of a past Republican generation, made
a point of excluding Trump from his funeral in September, but
Bush was known for New England gentility and seemed less likely
to want to make such a statement. It is traditional for the
incumbent president to speak at services for a former
president, although there have been exceptions.
Trump has not had much experience in his two years in office at
playing the role of national healer in moments of mourning like
this. His instincts tend toward the bellicose and he has mocked
the notion of being presidential. But in the hours since Bush’s
death, he has gone further than he ever did with McCain in
embracing the Bush legacy, aware of the enormous affection for
the former president across party lines.
Trump’s very presidency, however, stands as a rebuke to Bush —
never a proponent of “kinder and gentler” politics, Trump
prefers a brawl, even with his own party, and represents a more
conservative approach to domestic policy at home and an America
First policy abroad that repudiates Bush’s staunch
In effect, Trump has made clear that he sees the
go-along-to-get-along style that defined Bush’s presidency as
inadequate to advance the nation in a hostile world. Gentility
and dignity, hallmarks of Bush, are signs of weakness to Trump.
His trip here to Buenos Aires, in fact, was built in part
around dismantling Bush’s legacy. Just Friday, Trump signed a
new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada to replace the North
American Free Trade Agreement first negotiated by Bush, which
he disparaged as bad for the United States. “The terrible NAFTA
will soon be gone,” he wrote on Twitter.
Trump was never as harsh publicly about the patriarch of the
Bush family as he was about its other members, but more than
once in recent months, he mocked a famous phrase from the
former president’s 1989 inaugural address, “a thousand points
of light,” which Bush used to describe Americans coming
together as volunteers to improve their communities and their
“What the hell was that, by the way, thousand points of light?”
he asked an appreciative crowd at a campaign rally in Great
Falls, Montana, in July. “What did that mean? Does anyone know?
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.”
Two months later, he returned to that theme. “It’s so easy to
be presidential,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Wheeling,
West Virginia, in September. “But instead of having 10,000
people outside trying to get into this packed arena, we’d have
about 200 people standing right there. OK? It’s so easy to be
presidential. All I have to do is ‘Thank you very much for
being here, ladies and gentlemen. It’s great to see you off —
you’re great Americans. Thousand points of light.’ Which nobody
has really figured out.”
“And in the meantime,” he added, “everything’s going to be
dying, and your coal and everything else. No, no. We got to
keep it going the way it’s going. Do we agree? Do we agree?”
For his part, Bush was never impressed by Trump. “I don’t like
him,” Bush told the historian Mark K. Updegrove in May 2016. “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.” Rather than being
motivated by public service, Bush said, Trump seemed to be
driven by “a certain ego.”
But he recognized that Trump was at the forefront of change.
“I’m worried that I will be the last Republican president,” he
told Updegrove, who later wrote “The Last Republicans” about
Bush and George W. Bush.
The current president sought to put that history aside on
Saturday, even citing Bush’s “thousand points of light” in the
written statement that he authorized aides to release in the
immediate hours after the former president’s death.
“President Bush 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,” the statement said.