GREAT FALLS, MT - JULY 05:  U.S. president Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Four Seasons Arena on July 5, 2018 in Great Falls, Montana. President Trump held a campaign style 'Make America Great Again' rally in Great Falls, Montana with thousands in attendance.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Trump mocks George H.W. Bush at campaign rally
02:08 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Several people with ties to former President George H.W. Bush jumped to his defense in light of President Donald Trump’s swipe Thursday night.

At a rally in Montana, Trump took aim at Bush’s slogan “thousand points of light,” which he popularized during his presidential campaign. It later became the titular phrase for Bush’s volunteerism organization.

“You know all of the rhetoric you see. ‘Thousands points of light.’ What the hell was that by the way?” Trump said.

“Thousand points of light,” he said. “What does that mean? I know one thing. ‘Make America Great Again’ we understand. Putting America first we understand. Thousand points of light, I never quite got that one. What the hell is that? Has anyone ever figured that one out? It was put out by a Republican, wasn’t it?”

Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who worked for President George W. Bush, called the remarks “so uncalled for.”

“Going after a 94-year-old, former President’s promotion of volunteerism. I don’t mind potus being a fighter. I do mind him being rude,” he wrote on Twitter Thursday night.

Richard Haass, who worked as a special assistant to H.W. Bush and as the senior director for Near East and South Asian affairs on his National Security Council, slammed the current president for the jab.

“Truly offensive to see @realDonaldTrump mock @GeorgeHWBush given 41’s 1) life of public service; 2) commitment to volunteerism; 3) critical role in ending Cold War peacefully and on our terms and then leading world in liberating Kuwait, the 1st test of post-cold war era,” Haass tweeted Friday morning.

Nicholas Burns, the 41st president’s Director for Soviet Affairs, wrote Friday morning that “President George H.W. Bush is ten times the man and the President than Donald Trump.”

Presidential historian Jon Meacham, who penned a biography about the 94-year-old Bush, responded to Trump’s mocking inquiry on Twitter Thursday night.

“Well, Mr. President, since you ask: it was an image of a nation illuminated by our better angels, offered by a man who gave his life to the service of that nation,” he wrote.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., who ran as a Democratic presidential candidate the year that Bush was elected president, defended his colleague across the aisle.

”.@GeorgeHWBush, soldier, servant, president, a thousand points of light, representing a thousand ways people could serve and share. He should not be demeaned by #POTUS,” Jackson wrote Friday. “@GeorgeHWBush beloved veteran, like @SenJohnMccain has earned respect of Americans everywhere.”

In response to a request for comment, a Points of Light spokesperson directed CNN to a tweet posted Friday about the slogan’s origins.

“With these words, nearly 3 decades ago, our founder President @GeorgeHWBush ignited a spirit of volunteerism and inspired millions to be points of light in communities around the world,” the foundation wrote, along with this quote and a call to learn more:

“We can find meaning and reward by serving some higher purpose other than ourselves, a shining purpose, the illumination of a thousand points of light … we all have something to give.”

CNN’s Dan Merica contributed to this report.