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How Democrats came to embrace George W Bush

Reported by ritcha | January 22nd, 2021 @ 03:51 AM

It's not a bug, it's a feature.

The silence of George W Bush on the presidency of Donald Trump was widely lamented by his supporters during the 2020 election. But his adherence to the tradition of former presidents remaining neutral may be the only credible attempt at the healing espoused by president-elect Joe Biden.

With Mr Trump becoming the first in 152 years to skip a successor's inauguration, Mr Bush standing alongside Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Joe Biden is an image of continuity at a time when few norms remain unbroken.

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"He's always been a firm believer of following in his father's footsteps that presidents of the United States don't weigh in on future presidential campaigns,” John Farner, who worked for Mr Bush’s 2000 campaign and Commerce Department, told The Independent.

Mr Farner is co-founder of the group 43 Alumni for Biden, about 500 ex-Bush administration staffers who supported the former president’s position of silence while other Never Trump Republicans hoped he would speak out.

“He’s stayed true to those beliefs,” Mr Farner said. “We’re very happy to see him attend the inauguration. He's always believed in the outcome of this election that president-elect [Biden] was the fairly elected president of the United States.”

Maintaining neutrality may seem unusual to the standard American diet of presidents Trump, Obama, and Clinton. But for the British, it has a distinctly familiar flavour. Unlikely as it seemed in the 2000s, being an unspeaking symbol of continuity not swayed by the politics of the day has transformed "43" into the closest parallel the United States has to the Queen.Keeping quiet on politics, combined with nostalgia viewed through Trump-coloured glasses, has reformed Mr Bush's image among Democrats from "Dubya" the Iraq war criminal to the kindly, 74-year-old grandpa sharing candy and cuddles with the Obamas and Clintons.

Or as comedian Aziz Ansari put it during his Saturday Night Live monologue after Mr Trump's inauguration:

“What the hell has happened? I’m sitting here wistfully watching old George W Bush speeches? Just sitting there like, what a leader he was! Sixteen years ago I was certain this dude was a dildo. Now I'm sitting there like, he guided us with his eloquence!"

While rare among American leaders today, the tradition of presidents not criticizing successors was the standard before Mr Clinton and Mr Obama left office only to sink deeper into the Democratic establishment as the party's kingmakers and most effective campaigners.

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