Bush World goes for Clinton, but will a former president?

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Hank Paulson. Richard Armitage. Brent Scowcroft. 

They represent the cadre of Bush World alums who have openly endorsed Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump for president and say they will be choosing “country over party” this fall.

{mosads}And they’re not alone.

A handful of other top political appointees and aides from the George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush administrations are expected to buck their party and back Clinton in the coming months amid growing anxiety about what Trump might mean for fiscal policy and national security if he wins the White House.

“I live in D.C., so my vote is kind of irrelevant. But if I was the last vote, if my vote was going to make a difference, I’d prefer to have Hillary Clinton in the White House than Donald Trump,” Tony Fratto, a former deputy assistant and deputy press secretary to President George W. Bush, told The Hill.

“I think that’s an easy call. I think it’s really easy: [Trump] is not fit for office,” Fratto added.

Many other former Bush officials will privately vote for Clinton this fall, even if they don’t publicly broadcast it in a speech, op-ed or tweet.

“For me, the answer is no. I can’t support Trump. He has proven he has very little ability to learn. I don’t care if we were on Day One, but now we’re on Day 365 and he doesn’t seem to know much,” said another top George W. Bush appointee, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the nominee.

“I will probably hold my nose and vote for Hillary Clinton with no joy or enthusiasm.”

It’s unclear if anyone in the immediate Bush dynasty will cast a vote for Clinton.

The 41st and 43rd presidents and Jeb Bush, Trump’s one-time primary foe, all have taken the unprecedented step of declining to endorse the presumptive GOP nominee. And they’re joining the long list of establishment Republicans who are skipping the Republican National Convention in Cleveland next month.

For the Bush clan, it’s become personal.

Trump blamed George W. Bush for failing to keep the country safe because the 9/11 attacks happened on his watch.

And during a raucous campaign debate in February, Trump accused Bush of deliberately misleading the public about weapons of mass destruction to boost support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In 2008, the Manhattan billionaire had called for Bush to be impeached over his handling of the war.

“Obviously, the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake, all right?” Trump roared at the debate in South Carolina. “They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none, and they knew there were none.”

The Bushes could deal with Trump taunting Jeb as “low energy” on the campaign trail, but they believe his attacks on Bush 43 crossed the line.

“This was a very personal attack on the president, that he lied to start a war with Iraq. [Trump] has the exact same view as MoveOn.org. That’s his view,” Fratto said.

The Bushes “are troubled by a guy who has really bizarre conspiracy theories as our party’s nominee,” Fratto said.

Spokesman Jim McGrath said George H.W. and Barbara Bush backed their son, Jeb, in the primary but are now “letting the process play out without commenting or intervening.”

It’s also worth noting that the elder Bush had become extremely close with President Bill Clinton, even though they had once been bitter political foes.

So far, the group of pro-Hillary Republicans is small but comprised of some big names.

Paulson, the former Treasury secretary who oversaw the financial bailout at the end of the George W. Bush administration, is the highest-ranking former GOP official to back Clinton over Trump.

“The GOP, in putting Trump at the top of the ticket, is endorsing a brand of populism rooted in ignorance, prejudice, fear and isolationism,” Paulson wrote in a scathing op-ed in The Washington Post. “Enough is enough. It’s time to put country before party and say it together: Never Trump.”

Then there’s Armitage, George W. Bush’s deputy secretary of State and a former Ronald Reagan appointee, who told Politico that Trump “doesn’t appear to be a Republican” or want to learn about policy issues.

Scowcroft, national security adviser to Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, heaped praise on Clinton, saying the former secretary of State, senator and first lady has the “wisdom and experience to lead our country at this critical time.”

GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, a White House aide to George W. Bush who later ran Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign, hasn’t endorsed Clinton. But he’s previously said there will be a concerted effort by the Clinton campaign to recruit top Republican national security and foreign policy officials who align with her more hawkish positions.

That could include former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former CIA Director David Petraeus and retired Gen. Ray Odierno. Fratto said it makes sense that the pro-Hillary GOP voices have served in the top rungs of government, where they lived through things like the 2008 financial crisis and 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“Anyone who spent time in and around the White House, especially on national security issues, is appropriately frightened at the idea that you would put that responsibility and authority in the hands of Trump,” Fratto said. “You know how dangerous it would be to have someone that erratic and extreme heading up American policy?”

Of course, there are also top Bush officials who’ve thrown their support behind Trump.

George W. Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, said he always supports the GOP nominee. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who launched the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq under Bush 43, called Trump a “known unknown” but is endorsing him anyway because Clinton is “unacceptable.”

Kevin Kellems, a top aide to both Cheney and Rumsfeld, joined the Trump campaign this month to help manage campaign surrogates.

But the vast majority of Bush Republicans are still grappling with the question of whom to vote for in November.

Tim Miller, the former top spokesman for Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, went on to become a leading voice in the “Never Trump” movement. But he can’t bring himself to vote for Clinton either.

“I literally wrote a book about how terrible she is,” said Miller, who previously ran an anti-Clinton PAC called America Rising. “That said, Trump is a threat to our party and our republic, so my focus is on stopping him.”

“I do think 43 and Jeb have carried themselves with dignity and have a great appreciation for the office,” Miller continued, “and made very clear cases for why Trump does not meet that standard.”

A close friend of Jeb Bush, GOP strategist Ana Navarro has become one of the fiercest critics of Trump on cable TV. But with more than four months to go until Election Day, she said she’s also not yet ready for Hillary.

“Everyone has to wrestle with the question of what supporting Trump means vis-a-vis loyalty to the Republican Party and to America. It’s a process. People are coming to different conclusions,” Navarro said. “Right now, Trump has definitely lost my vote. No turning back. That bridge is burnt.

Still, Navarro added: “Hillary has not earned my vote.”


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