Former President George W. Bush on Tuesday described the Republican Party as “isolationist, protectionist and, to a certain extent, nativist,” his strongest and most direct criticism yet against his own party since leaving office in 2009.
Bush’s comments are notable not only because he’s a former Republican president, but he has largely kept quiet on politics since he left Washington. He has recently written about the need for a gentler approach to immigration in contrast to much of the hardline rhetoric that dominates the current GOP in the post-Trump era, but he has typically avoided directly criticizing the party.
Asked on Tuesday how he would describe the Republican Party as he sees it today, Bush told NBC’s Hoda Kotb on the “Today” show, “I would describe it as isolationist, protectionist and, to a certain extent, nativist.”
When asked if he was disappointed by the party, the former President said, “Well, it is not exactly my vision but I am just an old guy they put out to pasture. Just a simple painter.”
Asked if a Republican who speaks warmly about immigration, favors gun control and supports a strong government presence in education would have a chance for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, Bush replied, “I think so.”
“I think it depends upon the emphasis. I think if the emphasis is integrity and decency and trying to work to get problems solved I think the person has a shot, yeah,” he said, objecting to Kotb’s premise that such a candidate would be “pro-immigration.”
“I think pro-immigration isn’t the right way to put it,” Bush said. “I think border enforcement with a compassionate touch. That’s how I would put it. That’s what immigration basically means, let’s open up the borders.”
Bush, who has recently made several media appearances to promote his book of paintings of immigrants, has called on Congress to tone down the “harsh rhetoric” on immigration and advocated last week for a bipartisan approach to immigration legislation.
“I do want to say to Congress, please put aside all of the harsh rhetoric about immigration, please put aside trying to score political points on either side. I hope I can help set a tone that is more respectful about the immigrant, which may lead to reform of the system,” Bush told Norah O’Donnell on “CBS Sunday Morning” over the weekend.
In the “Today” interview on Tuesday, Bush also expressed concern about President Joe Biden’s announcement to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, the war Bush initiated following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks nearly 20 years ago.
“My first reaction was wow, these girls are gonna have real trouble with the Taliban,” Bush said recalling when Biden informed him of the decision. “A lot of gains have been made, and so I’m deeply concerned about the plight of women and girls in that country.”
“I think we’ll see, time will tell,” when asked if withdrawing troops was the right decision.
“I think the administration hopes that the girls are going to be OK through diplomacy. We’ll find out. All I know is the Taliban, when they had the run of the place, they were brutal.”
This story has been updated with additional details.