Presidential politics has a long history of dividing parties, from the Dixiecrats of the 1940s and 50s to the Bull Moose Party of 1912 to the Mugwumps of the 1880s and onward. But for the past few decades—since the anti-Goldwater republican faction and, to a lesser extent, the Reagan democrats—primary-election sour grapes have fermented into a potable that kept mouths shut and toes on the line. But at 92-years-old and with precious few fucks left to give, President George H.W. Bush recently told a meeting of the bipartisan Points of Light Foundation—the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service—that he would be voting for Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over failed casino owner, failed steak salesman and bottom-of-his-timeslot reality TV host Donald Trump.
The Bush family, with few exceptions, has stayed mum on the subject of Trump until now: They haven’t toed the line and given in like Paul Ryan and, disappointingly, John McCain have done. (Honestly, one would think the Viet Cong would be excellent practice for resisting Trump’s bullies.) But the Bushes also haven’t come out and said anything directly against Trump since Jeb dropped out of the race. The patriarch’s admission that he’s voting for Clinton goes against the Bush family strategy up until this point, and suggests a level of frustration with the party that would have been unthinkable during the days of Karl Rove’s “permanent conservative majority,” as much of a pipe dream as any thousand year kingdom.
President Bush 41 telling a room full of 40 bipartisan philanthropists might not seem like a giant deal, but the former president is breaking with neocon tradition for a good reason, and he’s not the only prominent republican to do so. Brent Scowcroft, President Bush 41’s national security advisor, came out for Clinton this summer and a number of former Bush and Reagan appointees have done the same, all chiming in with one version or another of the same sentiment: Hillary Clinton is someone whose policies they may find disagreeable, but she is nonetheless an accomplished politician who has proved her ability to lead; Trump, whose obsession with dictators and strongmen is outmatched only by his complete ineptitude at policy and decision making, is a dangerous crypto fascist threatening to end the American experiment in government once and for all.
Hopefully, Bush’s prudent endorsement of Hillary will let other republicans know that it’s OK to stray from the party line sometimes, when the alternative is unmentionable and un-American.