Bush endorsing Biden? Don’t hold your breath
George W. Bush won’t be at the Republican National Convention this year, just as he did not appear at the 2016 election nominating Donald Trump as the GOP nominee four years ago.
It’s an open secret that the former president and his family, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who was beaten by Trump in the 2016 GOP primary, don’t support their party’s president.
But the question looming over the 2020 general election is whether Bush could do the unimaginable: cross party lines and endorse Joe Biden.
A number of Republicans have done so, including Colin Powell, Bush’s former secretary of State, who appeared at the Democratic convention last week to back Biden. On Monday, former Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and dozens of other former GOP members of Congress announced they would back Biden.
“More than ever, I know it’s on a lot of people’s minds,” said one longtime Bush aide. “These are unprecedented times and a lot of people think it makes sense.”
The adviser pointed to the recent Republican endorsements of Biden from the likes of Powell, former GOP Govs. John Kasich of Ohio and Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, former eBay and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman and former GOP Reps. Charlie Dent (Pa.) and Susan Molinari (N.Y.).
Last month, a number of former Bush White House and campaign officials also launched a super PAC called “43 Alumni for Biden” to help mobilize Republicans who are “dismayed and disappointed by the damage done to our nation by Donald Trump’s presidency.”
“So why not W?” the aide said, echoing what’s been said from both Republicans and Democrats.
Behind the scenes, some Biden allies have been reaching out through back channels to friends in the Bush universe to see if an endorsement would ever happen — or if it’s just a pipe dream.
“We tried a little unofficially to see if there was a way to make it happen, but we couldn’t get there,” said one Biden ally. “And I do think it would make a difference, because we’ve learned every vote counts.”
Bush also learned that lesson during the 2000 election when he defeated former Vice President Al Gore by 537 votes after a rare recount effort in Florida where election officials closely examined each and every ballot.
But Bush has refrained from criticizing Trump and rarely enters the political arena. Freddy Ford, a spokesman for Bush said “it is not in the cards” for the former president to endorse Biden.
“We’ve been quite clear and consistent — President Bush is retired from presidential politics and will not be weighing in,” Ford said in an email to The Hill.
Bush hasn’t remained on the sidelines altogether. Last week, he endorsed Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who is in a tight reelection battle in Maine, where the Bush family has had a residence in Kennebunkport.
Speaking about that endorsement, a longtime Bush adviser said the family has “known her for years. In a lot of ways she is their senator.”
But the adviser also said endorsing Biden or speaking in opposition in Trump isn’t Bush’s style
“I could never see him step out openly against another president,” the adviser said. “He lives by the mantra that he didn’t like it when he was in office and he’s not going to do it when he’s out of office.
“When you’re off the stage, you’re off the stage,” the adviser added.
At the same time, a nod from the former president is largely unnecessary, another longtime aide said.
“A non-endorsement [of Trump] is message enough,” the aide said. “To me that’s sufficient.
“I hardly know a person from Bush World who is supporting Trump, so it’s not like someone needs a signal from the top,” the aide added.
Still, some have wondered why he doesn’t make an exception at this moment, during a pandemic and record-high unemployment. Last week, former President Obama delivered a powerful rebuke of the Trump presidency and warned that a second term would put democracy at stake.
After the speech, MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace, who served as Bush’s White House communications director, hinted that Bush likely feels similarly.
“Let me say this about Obama, I have a hunch that every living former president would speak from the same deep well of despair,” Wallace said. “Obama’s speech shook me because of his despair laid bare.
“We cannot fathom the fury and the despair and the rage that every former living president — I’m gonna go out on a limb and say the dead ones, too — feel when they watch Donald Trump.”
The Bush family has largely remained quiet during the Trump administration and even during the last presidential campaign in 2016. But there have been glimpses into Bush’s thinking along the way.
“Well, that was some weird shit,” Bush told Hillary Clinton after the two listened to Trump’s Inauguration Day address, according to an interview she gave last year to Howard Stern.
Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, said an endorsement “is likely a bridge too far” for Bush.
“The Bushes have been a Republican family literally for generations, so I expect they, including Jeb, will just stay silent,” Jillson said, adding that future generations of the Bush family might want to run for office. “An explicit endorsement of Biden might sink them all.”
“It’s Trump’s party now, and no one knows that better than the Bushes,” he added.
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