WASHINGTON – Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, will not make public how they voted in this year’s presidential race, four years after the couple revealed on Election Day that they had selected “none of the above” in the 2016 White House contest.
Bush spokesman Freddy Ford – who’s stressed repeatedly over the 2020 campaign cycle that the former president is “retired from presidential politics” – on Monday confirmed that the Dallas residents are keeping their ballot box decisions to themselves this year.
That it’s even a question is remarkable, underscoring yet again how President Donald Trump has transformed the GOP from the party it was under Bush.
Political pundits and others have debated for months whether the Bushes would cast a vote this election for Trump, a Republican; former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat; or, as the Texans did four years ago, neither major-party candidate.
The actions of others in the Bush orbit have further stirred the speculation.
Some notable Bush administration officials – Cabinet secretaries, in some instances – have voiced their support for Biden. But Bush’s nephew – George P. Bush, a Republican who serves as Texas land commissioner – has been a vocal Trump backer.
Whatever their choice, George W. and Laura Bush have already made it.
The former first couple voted early and in-person on Oct. 15, according to Dallas County election records reported to the Texas secretary of state, making them part of the record-setting early voting turnout that played out this year in North Texas and beyond.
Their votes could matter, too.
Polling shows Trump and Biden locked in a close race in Texas, with some surveys even showing the Democrat holding a slight lead. That’s stoked the possibility that Texas could select a Democrat for president for the first time since Jimmy Carter bested President Gerald Ford in 1976.
Bush, to state the obvious, carried his home state in 2000 and 2004, as did his father, former President George H.W. Bush, in 1988 and 1992.
There’s little evidence to suggest that the Bushes’ feelings toward Trump have changed since 2016, when the former president and Trump clashed on the campaign trail as Bush’s brother Jeb, the former Florida governor, ran unsuccessfully for the White House.
Trump repeatedly ridiculed Jeb Bush, while also criticizing George W. Bush over 9/11 and the Iraq War.
The former president, in a barely veiled critique of Trump, jabbed back at the time that real strength is “not empty rhetoric, it is not bluster, it is not theatrics.” Instead, Bush added, “real strength – strength of purpose – comes from integrity and character.”
“In my experience, the strongest person usually isn’t the loudest one in the room,” he said.
Trump ended up winning the GOP nomination, leading to Election Day 2016.
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh started suggesting that the Bushes had voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump. Seeking to stop the rumor it its tracks, Ford explained to the Texas Tribune and other outlets that the Bushes didn’t vote for either candidate.
“They didn’t vote for Hillary; they didn’t vote for Trump,” Ford said then, adding that the Bushes voted for Republican candidates down-ballot.
Bush, even after that rebuke, called Trump the next day to congratulate him on his victory. The former president and first lady then attended Trump’s inauguration, though George W. Bush, according to Clinton, privately described the new president’s address as some “weird sh–.”
The two have since appeared together in public only one other time, in November 2018 for George H.W. Bush’s state funeral at Washington National Cathedral. (Just like four years ago, the Texan didn’t participate in the Republican National Convention in any capacity.)
George W. Bush has generally kept to his post-White House practice of not weighing in on his successors. Trump has indicated that he doesn’t want the feedback, anyway, explaining that he felt no need to call Bush or any other ex-president for advice on the coronavirus outbreak.
“I don’t think I’m going to learn much,” Trump said this spring.
Comparisons, though, are inevitable.
This past weekend, for instance, Bush participated in a National Italian American Foundation virtual gala that honored Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, according to Politico. Trump, meanwhile, just suggested that he could fire Fauci after the election, even as the pandemic rages on.
Beyond the White House race, the Bushes have continued to support GOP causes.
The couple in August made a rare public endorsement on behalf of Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican in a tough reelection fight. Bush has also donated this cycle to a number of GOP candidates, including the likes of Texas Sen. John Cornyn and others in the Lone Star State.