On Tuesday, Politico reported that former President George H.W. Bush would vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. The Bush family has shunned Trump since the primaries and drawn close to the Clintons since George H.W. Bush’s exit from office in 1992. Still, the news was somewhat shocking, given both the Bush family’s continued prominence in Republican politics – George P. Bush is currently Texas land commissioner and has his eye on higher office.
But the H.W. Bush apparent decision, reported by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, should come as no surprise. The Bush family isn’t put off so much by Trump’s policy proposals – except for immigration and free trade, the Bush family likely agrees with much of Trump’s left-leaning policy. They’re mostly put off by Trump’s attitude – his boorishness, his ignorance, his general sense of know-nothingism. To be fair, Trump clubbed Jeb! like a baby seal and the Bush family specifically during the debates; that had to draw some ire from the family. But for George H.W. Bush, the deciding factor was likely attitudinal: Trump just doesn’t belong. The Clintons, by dint of two decades in the White House spotlight, do.
This is one of the objections to Trump that many Trump supporters have a right to be angry about. It’s one thing to object to Trump based on policy differences and a general belief that he toxifies the conservative message. It’s another thing to do it because he doesn’t belong in the toney company of the blue bloods. The Bush Family feels like American royalty, and they appear to see Trump as a nouveau riche blowhard. That feels elitist rather than principled. Nobody was surprised that the person who reported H.W. Bush’s voting choice was a Kennedy. That’s how the Bushes roll.
And that feeling of Republican elitism helped drive Trump to new heights. Trump wasn’t merely a reaction to the “neocons” or the “Republican establishment.” He was a reaction to the Bush family in particular: their genteel sensibilities, their family heritage, their general chumminess with the Clintons. Republican primary voters reveled in the Trump-Jeb! piledrivers, because they felt that Trump was willing to hit people hard, unlike the Bush family.
Which means that H.W.’s quasi-endorsement of Hillary Clinton isn’t likely to drive many Republican voters away from Trump. In fact, it does precisely the opposite: it drives Republican voters toward Trump, since H.W. lost the presidency to the Clintons, made friends with them, and now appears to want a second Clinton presidency.