What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Author: Former Bush presidents concerned GOP has strayed from its principles

They are a living political dynasty, and they rarely weigh in on the politics of the day, but in the new book “The Last Republicans,” former Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush reflect on the man currently inhabiting the Oval Office and much more. Lisa Desjardins sits down with author and historian Mark Updegrove to discuss their father-son relationship and their shared ethos.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As President Trump continues to dominate the news cycle, not everyone in the exclusive president's club is giving him high marks.

    In a new book, former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush weigh in on Mr. Trump's handling of the highest office in the land.

    Lisa Desjardins recently sat down with historian and author Mark Updegrove.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    They are a living political dynasty, father-son presidents who rarely speak at length about the politics of today.

    But a new book offers insights and rare interviews with the pair, talking about their relationship, values and how they see the man in the Oval Office now. The book is called "The Last Republicans- Inside the Extraordinary Relationship Between George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush."

    And its author, historian Mark Updegrove, joins me now.

    Thank you for joining us.

  • Mark Updegrove:

    Thank you for having me.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So, let's start about these two fascinating men, and their relationship. Who are they and how have they influenced each other?

  • Mark Updegrove:

    Well, they are very different people of different generations.

    You have George H.W. Bush, who is this patrician from the Northeast who decides to strike out on his own in the oil business in Texas. And he's kind of a hybrid between those two places, the old-style patrician Northeast and rough-and-tumble Texas.

    And you have his son, who is a product of Midland, Texas, primarily, George W. Bush, a baby boomer, not part of the Greatest Generation, like his father. They are very different in many ways, but they are bound together by the ethos that is part of the Bush family.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Let's talk about that ethos, and in particular a quote.

  • Mark Updegrove:


  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You have a fascinating letter that George H.W. Bush wrote to his sons in 1973, as the Watergate scandal was happening.

    Can you introduce that letter and read a quote from it?

  • Mark Updegrove:

    Of course.

    This letter was written when George H.W. Bush was the chairman of the Republican National Committee. And it was just two weeks before Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency in 1974. And he used that as a teachable moment, if you will.

    And he writes his son a letter, which in part includes this passage- "In judging your president, give him credit for enormous achievements. But understand, too, that power accompanied by arrogance is very dangerous. It is particularly dangerous when men with no real experience have it, for they can abuse our great institutions."

    And it is that last, the last part of it that is so fascinating.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Especially now. It's a very timely quote.

  • Mark Updegrove:

    It's a very timely quote.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And I'm wondering, given that this is how you see the Bush ethos, what do the Bushes, the Presidents Bush, who have this value, how do they see the Republican Party now? Are they the last Republicans, the title of your book?

  • Mark Updegrove:

    Power accompanied by arrogance is a way of describing Richard Nixon.

    But when George H.W. Bush talks about it being particularly dangerous when men with no real experience have it, that is not Nixon. Nixon was a congressman. He was a senator. He was vice president. He went to be elected to the presidency twice.

    So he is not talking about Richard Nixon. It is a hypothetical, but it applies, obviously, to Donald Trump. And I think that the Bushes likely see him as endangering the institution that they revere most in the world, and that is that of the presidency.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Take us through their interactions with Donald Trump, some of them rejected — potential interactions that they chose not to have, and what exactly they told you about their thoughts on our president.

  • Mark Updegrove:

    George Herbert Walker Bush, when he was former president in the 1990s, was waiting for his private aircraft to be — to get some maintenance. And he was told by his chief of staff, who was told by an attendant at the airport, that Donald Trump was about to land. And would the former president like to meet Donald Trump?

    And when presented with this idea, George Bush had a newspaper in his hand. And he lowered it and he said, "God no." And then he lifted it up again and pulled it down and he said- "Wait, he's coming here?"

    And she said, "I don't know."

    And so he put up his newspaper in front of his face to shield his face, in the event that Donald Trump came by.

    So, that gives you a pretty good indication of what George Bush thought of Donald Trump prior to this. And, actually, his campaign manager in 1988 presented the notion of Donald Trump as running mate, which Donald — which George Bush quickly rejected.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And neither President Bush voted for Donald Trump.

  • Mark Updegrove:

    Neither of them did.

    As you alluded to, I don't know if they see themselves as the last Republicans. I think they see that there is still a vibrant Republican Party that can be had, if it goes back to the principles that they upheld as the standard-bearers of the Republican Party.

    But it strayed decidedly and discernibly from those principles. And I think that concerns both of the Bushes.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    President George Herbert Walker Bush was in the news, I think, in a way he didn't want to be with allegations that he inappropriately touched women on their bottoms.

    Did you speak to the Bush family about this? What is their take on those charges and sort of this environment right now?

  • Mark Updegrove:

    I think this is a great moment in the history of our country, that women are finally coming out and able to talk about injustices as it relates to the misbehavior like this.

    But I think it's dangerous to paint all this behavior with the same brush. What George Herbert Walker Bush is alleged to have done was in a rope line, when he was much older, his hands are in awkward places when he is sitting in a wheelchair.

    I think we probably have to give him the benefit of the doubt. I think, at worse, this is a very inappropriate gesture, a bad joke.

    And he was contrite. He immediately came out and apologized to those he may have offended. But it is very uncharacteristic for this man to have behaved in that way.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    My final question, I think throughout your book you see this conflict between the decency that the Bushes want to stand for and worries that they have about what they see day to day in the current White House.

    How does the Bush family decide now when to speak out? Because I know that their code is, generally, don't interfere with any current lawmakers.

  • Mark Updegrove:

    I think, without question, they want to see our president, Republican or Democrat, succeed. Both of the Bushes were succeeded by Democrats.

    And they left notes to each of their successors saying that, hey, listen, I'm here for you. I want you to succeed.

    Donald Trump, I think, is a concern to not only the Bushes, but to other establishment Republicans, and certainly to Democrats as well. I think the clearest statement they made was in the wake of the Charlottesville incident, in which the Bushes for the first and only time issued a joint tweet.

    It was a statement of sorts, condemning roundly the bigotry and anti-Semitism that we saw from Charlottesville.

    And I think it was — the reason for that joint statement is because we weren't seeing any clear, unambiguous statement from our president. It was a betrayal of American values.

    And the Bushes stepped up to fill, I think, what they might have seen as a leadership void.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Mark Updegrove, historian, author of "The Last Republicans," thank you.

  • Mark Updegrove:

    Thank you, Lisa.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest