In this day and age of stark political divides and strict party lines, some may have assumed that of course former President George H.W. Bush would vote for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump come November.
Well, it looks like that assumption is decidedly incorrect. On Monday evening, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and former lieutenant governor of Maryland, said on Facebook that H.W. told her he would be voting for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton when he fills out his ballot.
Townsend, who is listed as Kathleen Hartington on Facebook, posted a photo of her and the former president on the social media site. The President told me he's voting for Hillary!!" the post stated, according to CNN. (We checked, but for some reason she keeps her Facebook private. We've asked Townsend to comment on all of this. We'll update if we hear back.)
This is a sharp reversal for Bush. The former president had previously announced he planned on staying out of the 2016 presidential elections entirely. H.W. and former First Lady Barbara Bush got out on the campaign trail for their son Jeb Bush's failed presidential run earlier this year, but since then most of the Bush family has stayed out of the political arena.
Clearly a distaste for Trump was behind the hands-off approach. Trump took a lot of shots at Jeb, humiliating the former governor of Florida during his campaign to secure the GOP nomination, and the Bush family has had little to do with the candidate ever since. Both H.W. and former president George W. Bush skipped the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, sidestepping direct involvement as Trump accepted the party's nomination. (Senator Ted Cruz went the more direct route of refusing to endorse Trump on the convention stage in prime time, a move that didn't play well, as we've noted.)
So W. is sticking to his plan to abstain from voting this time around, while Barbara announced back in February in no uncertain terms that she wouldn't be voting for Trump. Jeb has said he'll vote for a Libertarian or a write-in, but won't back either of the main party candidates. (Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, son of Jeb, has opted to support Trump's candidacy, as we've reported, one of the few open deviations from the Bush family stance.)
Aside from simply detesting Trump himself, it makes sense that H.W. would choose to back Clinton. In the years since H.W.'s predecessor served in the White House, the two families have gotten close, particularly H.W. and Bill Clinton. H.W.'s moderate conservative approach to politics is a lot closer to what the Clintons represent than Trump's raucous, racist, divisive, inflammatory approach to politicking.
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But now, instead of just staying out of it — which was already a strong indication of both H.W.'s dislike of Trump and how divided the Republican Party actually is — H.W. is putting the weight of his opinion behind Hillary. Thus, that Facebook post marked a huge, historically unprecedented development.
A former president hasn't openly backed the nominee from another party in decades. Sure, former President Theodore Roosevelt refused to back William Howard Taft, but that was because Roosevelt was running. And even with the most bitter party nomination fights, like the one that led to Barry Goldwater's Republican nod in 1964, former presidents have always ultimately backed the chosen candidate, as the Pew Research Center noted.
But that's not how things are playing out this time around.
Bush spokesman Jim McGrath said in a statement to the Houston Press, “The vote President Bush will cast as a private citizen in some 50 days will be just that: a private vote cast in some 50 days. He is not commenting on the presidential race in the interim." However, McGrath didn't deny that H.W. is voting for Hillary, and that lack of denial, like what H.W. said to Townsend, speaks volumes.