Former President George W. Bush again criticized what he sees as a Republican Party that is not inclusive enough, arguing that if it stands for “White Anglo-Saxon Protestantism, then it’s not going to win anything.”
The comments by the 43rd President – who has recently critiqued the modern GOP with a candor that has been unusual for him in retirement – speak to a rift in the party that has one side urging a doubling-down on former President Donald Trump’s brand of nativist politics and another that wants to return to the more traditional GOP that Bush once led.
Bush made the remark in a podcast interview with The Dispatch last week in response to a question about members of the Republican Party who planned to start a caucus pushing for “Anglo-Saxon political tradition” and Republicans who peddled the falsehood that the 2020 election was stolen. Bush, who said he does not believe the election was stolen, told The Dispatch that while he believes Republicans will eventually govern again, “if the Republican Party stands for exclusivity – you know, it used to be country clubs, now evidently it’s White Anglo-Saxon Protestantism – then it’s not going to win anything.”
It’s far from clear, however, if the former President’s guidance will find an audience among a GOP whose leaders are reluctant to defy former President Donald Trump and his base.
In recent days, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney was booed by GOP delegates at the Utah Republican Party’s organizing convention who are still angry about the 2012 presidential nominee’s votes to convict Trump in both his 2020 and 2021 impeachment trials. Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House, who also voted to impeach Trump this year, has become once again a target of Trump and his congressional allies after she said that Republicans who objected to the certification of Electoral College results on January 6 should be disqualified from leading the party.
Bush has in recent weeks described the Republican Party as “isolationist, protectionist and, to a certain extent, nativist,” and 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.
The former President has been making media appearances to promote his new book, a collection of portraits of American immigrants he painted, titled “Out of Many, One,” which happens to have been released at a time of heated debate over immigration in Washington.
Bush, who lives in Texas, has for years highlighted the immigrant community in his home state and has often praised America’s immigrant history while advocating for immigration policies.
“I fully understand the populist angst that comes with the immigration debate,” he told The Dispatch on Friday.
Bush, who has experienced immigrants for years in Texas and embraces immigration, said he can understand why those without that experience might feel differently.
“One reason I can see it is because I studied history and I, you know, I remember the Know-Nothing Party, fiercely anti-immigrant. I remember the immigration policy of the 20’s: ‘too many Jews and Italians.’ Therefore we had zero immigrants, except for, of course, on the Texas border, where immigrants were always coming in to help, you know, the cattle raisers and the farmers. But yeah, I fully understand it. And I don’t cast aspersion. But I also know that without those immigrants, the economies of those areas would be, you know, paltry,” Bush told The Dispatch.
“The purpose of responsible policymakers is to say, ‘Look, we fully understand where you’re coming from,’ ” he said, adding that policymakers should also shed light on the “positive contributions these citizens can make.”
“It’s a natural phenomenon and it’s not a onetime experience in our country,” Bush said. “We’ve been having these spasms of anxiety for a long period of time. On the other hand, a confident nation says, ‘E pluribis unum.’ “
CNN’s Chandelis Duster, Maeve Reston, Lauren Fox, Alex Rogers and Manu Raju contributed to this report.