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  1. Florida Politics

Both Bush presidents worry Trump is blowing up the GOP

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump is not a favorite in the extended Bush household. Former President George H.W. Bush considers him a "blowhard," only interested in feeding his own ego. Former President George W. Bush, his son, thinks Trump fans public anger and came to office without any understanding of the job.

And both worry that Trump has blown up a Republican Party that they spent two lifetimes building, a party that was once committed to removing boundaries to trade and immigration, promoting democracy and civil society and asserting a robust U.S. leadership role in the world.

A new book on the two Bushes who served in the White House provides a glance at their apprehension over Trump's rise to power and what it means for the country. The first book ever written with their cooperation about their relationship, it also opens a window into the only father-and-son tandem to hold the presidency since John Adams and John Quincy Adams.

In "The Last Republicans," Mark K. Updegrove chronicles an era that feels almost dated in today's reality-show politics, when the Republican establishment controlled the party and Washington, and when a single family could occupy the presidency and vice presidency for a combined 20 years.

Neither of the two Republican former presidents voted for Trump ? the father voted for Hillary Clinton and the son voted for "none of the above," as he told Updegrove.

Indeed, at one point during the 2016 presidential campaign, the younger Bush confided to the author, "I'm worried that I will be the last Republican president."

That inspired the title of the book ? which will be published Nov. 14 by HarperCollins ? as a quote that seemed to carry a double meaning.

"At the time, I think he was concerned that Hillary Clinton would win," Updegrove, the author of several books on the presidency, said in an interview. "But if you look at his values and those shared by his father and Ronald Reagan, they are very much in contrast to the values of the Republican Party today, in particular the platform that Donald Trump ran on, which is essentially protectionism and a certain xenophobia."

In discussing Trump, the elder president was blunter. "I don't like him," Bush said 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."

The younger Bush was more circumspect but also clearly disapproving. The Bushes felt stung by Trump's ground-burning attacks that helped destroy the campaign of Jeb Bush, the son and brother of the presidents.

"You can either exploit the anger, incite it," George W. Bush told Updegrove, "or you can come up with ideas to deal with it." Jeb, he said, came up with solutions, "but it didn't fit with the mood."

"If you're angry with the powers that be," he added, "you're angry with the so-called establishment, and there's nothing more established than having a father and brother that have been president."

When Trump entered the race, George W. Bush thought he would not last, and he was surprised by the real estate developer's success at capturing the nomination. Still, he was not impressed.

When Trump declared that "I'm my own adviser," Bush thought he did not understand the presidency. He also lamented Trump's lack of humility. "As you know from looking at my family, it is a certain heritage, that's what they expect, and we're not seeing that" in Trump.

The release of the book comes weeks after the younger Bush delivered a speech seen as a rebuke of Trump's approach to the presidency and the world.

Addressing a conference in New York, Bush decried what he called the "nativism" of today's policies and the "casual cruelty" of today's politics. Without mentioning Trump by name, Bush said "bigotry seems emboldened" and "our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication."

Updegrove, the former director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum and now the founding chief executive of the National Medal of Honor Museum, got to know both Bushes in recent years and persuaded them to talk with him for a book on their relationship, a subject they had been allergic to while their political careers were still active.

The two men disputed Shakespearean assumptions about father-son rivalries and insisted they remained close throughout the younger Bush's presidency, despite suspicions about a rift over the Iraq War. But George W. Bush's parents were clearly disturbed by the influence of Vice President Dick Cheney and neoconservative advisers.

The elder Bush, Updegrove reported, counseled his son to consider "shaking up the ticket" in 2004, meaning to replace Cheney as his running mate ? just as the younger Bush suggested to his father about Vice President Dan Quayle in 1992. Like his father, the son disregarded the advice.

Barbara Bush, the wife of one president and mother of another, told Updegrove that she believed Cheney changed because of his health troubles, including a heart attack followed by a stent operation shortly after the 2000 election. "I do think he was different," she said. "I think his heart operation made a difference. I always liked him, but I didn't like him so much for a while because I thought he hurt George. I wasn't that fond of him. I think he pushed things a little too far right."

The younger Bush resented the implication that anyone was steering him. "The fact that there was any doubt in anyone's mind about who the president was blows my mind," he said. He added that Cheney and Donald H. Rumsfeld, his defense secretary, "didn't make one f------ decision."

But he insisted Cheney served him well and said the vice president's sometimes dark reputation was inevitable. "I understand the way the system works," he said. "Somebody has to be the bad guy."

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