AP

Presidents Club Assembles For Bush Funeral, Trump On Fringes

Dec 5, 2018, 10:24 AM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 5:16 pm
From left, President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, former President Barack Obama, Michell...
From left, President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, former President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former President Jimmy Carter listen as former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney speaks during a State Funeral at the National Cathedral, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Washington, for former President George H.W. Bush. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation’s most exclusive fraternity — the presidents club — assembled Wednesday to mourn George H.W. Bush, putting on public display its uneasy relationship with the current occupant of the Oval Office. It was an uncomfortable, if necessary reunion, bringing President Donald Trump together in the same pew with past White House residents who have given him decidedly critical reviews.

Ahead of Wednesday’s state funeral for the late president, former presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and their spouses chatted easily among themselves from their seats in the front row at Washington’s National Cathedral. The ex-presidents leaned over their wives to chat with one another. Bill Clinton and former first lady Michelle Obama shared a quiet conversation.

But the Trumps’ arrival, minutes ahead of the motorcade carrying Bush’s casket, cast an icy pall on the conversation. First lady Melania Trump approached first, greeting both Obamas and former president Clinton with a handshake. The president then shook hands with both Obamas before taking his seat. Hillary Clinton stared straight ahead as the Trumps arrived, and the Carters appeared not to recognize his arrival at all.

After that, the small talk along the row largely stopped.

Next came George W. Bush, who, by contrast, shook hands with the entire row of dignitaries — and appeared to share a moment of humor with Michelle Obama, slipping something into her hand. Bush took his seat across the aisle from the ex-presidents, with the rest of the Bush family.

The Trump-Obama handshake marked the first direct interaction between the current president and his immediate predecessor since Inauguration Day 2017. Trump has not spoken to Democrats Clinton or Obama since that day.

Those who have occupied the Oval Office share an unparalleled experience that typically breeds a special camaraderie that often transcends contentious campaigns and party lines. The late Bush was its modern incarnation’s social chair, serving as the glue between fractious personalities. But the staid group was been disturbed since Trump’s election. And since his swearing-in, Trump has spurned most contact with his predecessors — and they have snubbed him in return.

He did speak with the younger Bush during the contentious confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, as the previous Republican president helped lobby for his former aide. Democrat Carter has been briefed by White House officials on North Korea, though it was not clear if he has engaged directly with Trump.

Trump has sought to meet the elder Bush’s passing with grace, a contrast to the rhythms of much of his tumultuous presidency. He came to office after a campaign in which he harshly criticized his Democratic predecessors and co-opted a Republican Party once dominated by the Bush family. Despite the traditional kinship among presidents, Trump’s predecessors have all made their discomfort known in different ways.

“It’s unusual that a cabal of ex-presidents from both parties dislike a sitting president and that’s what you’ve got happening right now,” said Douglas Brinkley, a history professor at Rice University.

By virtue of health, longevity and opportunities for continued influence, ex-presidents are sticking around longer than ever and staying active in the public eye.

Past presidents often built relationships with their predecessors, Brinkley said. “Bill Clinton would reach out to Richard Nixon for advice on Russia,” he said. “Harry Truman leaned heavily on Herbert Hoover. It’s endless.”

To be sure, Brinkley added, those ties vary from president to president and there have been chilly relationships as well, noting, for example, that “FDR would never talk to Herbert Hoover.”

Busy with a mix of personal pursuits, charitable endeavors — and, in some cases, paid speaking gigs — the former leaders don’t mingle very often, making a funeral in their group a big occasion. Bonded by the presidency, they tend to exercise caution in their comments about each other. Still, all the living former presidents have aimed barbs — directly or indirectly — at Trump.

In a speech in September, Obama slammed the “crazy stuff” coming out of the White House without directly naming Trump. Last year, the younger Bush made a speech that confronted many of the themes of Trump’s presidency without mentioning him by name, cautioning that “bigotry seems emboldened” and the nation’s politics “seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”

Over the summer, Carter told The Washington Post that Trump’s presidency was a “disaster.” And Clinton — stung by Trump’s defeat of wife Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race — told a weekly newspaper in New York state after her stunning loss that Trump “doesn’t know much.”

Even the late Bush’s feelings about Trump were harsh at times. In Mark K. Updegrove’s book “The Last Republicans,” published last year, the elder Bush called Trump a “blowhard.”

The late Bush said he voted for Clinton in 2016 while George W. Bush said he voted for “none of the above.”

There have been other moments when the ex-presidents offered more sympathetic sentiments for Trump. After Trump’s surprise victory, Obama stood in the Rose Garden at the White House and said he was “rooting” for the next president. Carter told The New York Times in 2017 that the media had been harder on Trump than other presidents. Clinton said in June that America should be rooting for Trump to succeed in his North Korea talks.

While he has struggled to set the right tone in past moments of national grief, Trump has gone out of his way to address Bush’s passing with consideration, issuing kind statements and ensuring that Bush family members have whatever they need for the funeral. On Tuesday, first lady Melania Trump welcomed Laura Bush and other family members for a tour of the White House Christmas decorations. And Trump and the first lady visited with members of the Bush family at Blair House.

Jim McGrath, a spokesman for the late president, tweeted thanks to Trump for his efforts, praising the president and the first lady, as well as White House staff and Congress leadership “for their amazing support as we attempt to give this great and good man the send-off he surely deserves.”

Brinkley said that presidential funerals tend to be civil occasions, even after political strain.
After all, he said, “Bill and Hillary were at Nixon’s funeral and Hillary worked to impeach him.”
___
AP writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

AP

TOKYO, JAPAN - NOVEMBER 05: Pedestrians wearing face masks are reflected in an electronic screen sh...
YURI KAGEYAMA, AP Business Writer

Asian shares mostly decline echoing US slide on rate worries

Asian shares are mostly lower, reflecting pessimism over weakness on Wall Street as the squeeze by central banks around the world to curb inflation weighs on investor sentiment.
1 day ago
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 17: Miguel Diaz Canel, President of Cuba poses during a state visit t...
CRISTIANA MESQUITA, Associated Press

Cuba holds unusual vote on law allowing same-sex marriage

Cuba is holding a rare referendum on an unusually contentious law — a government-backed code that would allow same-sex couples to marry and adopt.
1 day ago
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 11: Rihanna poses for a picture as she celebrates her beauty bra...
JAKE COYLE, AP Film Writer

Rihanna to headline the next Super Bowl halftime show

Rihanna is set to star in February’s Super Bowl halftime show.
1 day ago
Kennedy Space Center on September 03, 2022 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)...
MARCIA DUNN AP Aerospace Writer

EXPLAINER: Why is a NASA spacecraft crashing into an asteroid?

A NASA spacecraft is about to clobber a small, harmless asteroid millions of miles away. The spacecraft named Dart will zero in on the asteroid Monday, intent on slamming it head-on at 14,000 mph. The impact should be just enough to nudge the asteroid into a slightly tighter orbit around its companion space rock. It's the first save-the-world experiment of its kind. If successful, the test will demonstrate that if a killer asteroid ever heads our way, we'll stand a fighting chance. Dart blasted off on the $325 million mission last fall.
1 day ago
The room is seen before a hearing held by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attac...
MICHAEL KUNZELMAN Associated Press

QAnon follower who chased officer convicted in Jan. 6 trial

An Iowa man has been convicted of charges that he led a crowd of rioters in chasing a U.S. Capitol police officer up a staircase and accosting other officers guarding the Senate. That was one of the most harrowing scenes of the mob's attack that day. A federal jury deliberated for roughly four hours before convicting Douglas Jensen of felony charges that he obstructed Congress from certifying the Electoral College vote on Jan. 6, 2021, and that he assaulted or interfered with police officers during the siege. Jensen was convicted on all counts, including a charge that he engaged in disorderly conduct inside the Capitol while carrying a folding knife in his pocket.
1 day ago
FILE - Police responding to a scene....
Associated Press

Amusement park shooting near Pittsburgh leaves three wounded

Three people, including two teenagers, were wounded by gunfire late Saturday at an amusement park southeast of Pittsburgh, which was kicking off a Halloween-themed festival. Allegheny County police said a 39-year-old man and two 15-year-old boys sustained leg wounds in the gunfire shortly before 11 p.m. Saturday at Kennywood Park in West Mifflin. The man was treated and released and the two youths are listed as stable. Authorities say an argument between two groups of teenagers prompted the shooting by a suspect described as a male wearing a mask and black hoodie. Kennywood was celebrating the first night of its Phantom Fall Fest, scheduled to run through Oct. 16.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

young woman with stickers on laptop computer...
Les Olson

7 ways print marketing materials can boost your business

Custom print marketing materials are a great way to leave an impression on clients or customers. Read for a few ideas to spread the word about your product or company.
young woman throwing clothes to organize a walk in closet...
Lighting Design

How to organize your walk-in closet | 7 easy tips to streamline your storage today

Read our tips to learn how to organize your walk-in closet for more storage space. These seven easy tips can help you get the most out of your space.
Types of Computer Malware and Examples...
PC Laptops

5 Nasty Types of Computer Malware and Examples | Everything You Need to Know to Keep Your Computer and Family Safe

Here are the different types of computer malware and examples that could potentially infect your computer.
tips how to quit smoking...

7 Tips How to Quit Smoking | Quitting Smoking Might be One of the Hardest Things You Ever Do but Here’s Where You Can Start

Quitting smoking cigarettes can be incredibly difficult. Here are 7 tips how to quit smoking to help you on your quitting journey.
Photo: Storyblocks...
Blue Stakes of Utah 811

Blue Stakes of Utah 811: 5 Reasons To Call 811 Before You Dig When Working in Your Yard

Call before you dig. Even at home, you could end up with serious injuries or broken utilities just because you didn't call Blue Stakes of Utah 811.
Days of...
Days of '47 Rodeo

TRIVIA: How well do you know your rodeo? Take this quiz before you go to the Days of ’47!

The Utah Days of ’47 Rodeo presented by Zions Bank is a one-of-a-kind Gold Medal Rodeo being held July 20-23, 25 at 7:30 PM. The Days of ’47 Rodeo How well do you know your rodeo trivia? Take the quiz to test your know-all before heading out to the Days of ’47 Rodeo at the […]
Presidents Club Assembles For Bush Funeral, Trump On Fringes