Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party has split the group of top officials and advisers who worked for the last Republican president. A few members of the George W. Bush administration are backing the bombastic businessman, while others are playing coy or even speaking out against him. It's a contrast from 2008, when Team Bush largely lined up behind GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
Here’s where some top Bush administration figures stand on their party’s 2016 standard-bearer, in descending order of their support for Trump.
John Bolton, who was Bush’s uber-hawkish ambassador to the United Nations, is firmly behind Trump, saying Hillary Clinton won’t keep America safe.
Dick Cheney, the former vice president, has said he’s supporting Trump. Cheney’s daughter, Liz Cheney, is running for Congress from Wyoming.
Ari Fleischer, who served as White House press secretary, said earlier this year that if Trump is the GOP nominee, the party “will no longer be called conservative.” But last month, Fleischer tweeted that he’ll vote for Trump over Hillary Clinton “any day.”
Donald Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, sounds favorable toward Trump, saying in January that he’s “touched a nerve in our country.”
Karl Rove, Bush’s top political adviser, has called Trump “a complete idiot,” as well as “graceless and divisive.” But two weeks ago, the two men reportedly had a private sit-down. And Rove, who has relationships with key party funders, hasn’t ruled out supporting Trump.
Colin Powell hasn’t said definitively whether he’ll support Trump. But the former secretary of state, who crossed party lines to back Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, has been sharply critical of Trump’s stance on undocumented immigrants.
Andy Card, who was the president’s chief of staff during his first term, said last month that Trump “scared me," adding, "I want him to succeed, but he's gotta make the move to show me that he's worthy of my support ... right now, I will probably write in a name.”
President Bush himself won’t support Trump. A spokesman for the former president said in a statement last month that Bush won’t be commenting on the campaign. His father, President George H. W. Bush, has indicated the same.
Tony Fratto, another press secretary for the Bush White House, is a rare never-Trumper:
The reluctance of many of the Bushies to fully embrace Trump is hardly a surprise. Bush’s presidency may be widely regarded as a failure, but he did try to soften some of the rough edges of the modern conservative movement. He pushed unsuccessfully for comprehensive immigration reform, saying his party needed to be welcoming to Hispanics. And after the 9/11 attacks, he took pains to discourage Islamophobia, saying Islam is a religion of peace. Trump's proposals to deport undocumented immigrants and ban Muslims from entering the country represent a very different approach. And Trump hounded the former president’s brother, Jeb Bush, out of the race for the GOP nomination with a succession of insults and displays of dominance.
It’s notable that despite Trump’s bigotry and ignorance, only Fratto, not a bold-faced name outside of the political press corps, has condemned him in clear terms. Along with Thursday’s inevitable Trump endorsement from House Speaker Paul Ryan, it’s as good a sign as any of how the candidate has largely succeeded in limiting intraparty criticism and made the GOP his own.