Former US president George W. Bush has spoken out about the state of the political party he once led, describing it as “isolationist, protectionist and, to a certain extent, nativist”.
Mr Bush, a Republican who was president from 2001 to 2009, has returned to the spotlight this week to promote his latest book Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants.
This morning he appeared on NBC’s breakfast program Today, where he was asked about a range of issues, including immigration.
He responded with some implicit criticism of his fellow Republicans.
“Part of the purpose of the book is to elevate the discourse, and to remind our fellow citizens of the beauty of America. That it attracts people who are fleeing tyranny or oppression, or just want an opportunity to provide a better life,” he said.
“It’s a beautiful country we have. And yet it’s not beautiful when we condemn, call people names and scare people about immigration.
“It’s an easy issue to frighten some of the electorate, and I’m trying to have a different kind of voice.”
“If you were to describe the Republican Party as you see it today, how would you describe it?” asked interviewer Hoda Kotb.
“I would describe it as isolationist, protectionist, and to a certain extent nativist,” he said.
“Are you disappointed?” she pressed.
“Well, it’s not exactly my vision. But you know, I’m just an old guy they put out to pasture,” Mr Bush quipped.
Former president Donald Trump famously launched his 2016 campaign with a tirade against undocumented migrants.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” he said at the time.
“They’re sending people that have lots of problems. And they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
In the five years since then, illegal immigration has remained a core campaign issue for Republican politicians.
Kotb asked Mr Bush whether he thought a Republican presidential candidate who was “pro-immigration” and in favour of “reasonable gun control” would have any shot at winning the party’s nomination in 2024.
“Sure. Yeah, I think so,” he said.
“I think it depends on the emphasis. I think if the emphasis is integrity, and decency, and trying to work to get problems solved, I think the proper person has a shot, yeah.
“By the way, I think ‘pro-immigration’ isn’t the right way to put it. I think border enforcement with a compassionate touch, that’s how I would put it.
“Pro-immigration basically means let’s just open up the borders, and nobody’s really for that. And you can’t have a country that has open borders.”
At no point did Mr Bush call out Mr Trump by name.
“I feel like you’ve made it a point not to criticise your predecessors,” Kotb noted (presumably meaning to say successors).
“That’s true,” he conceded.
“Have you ever been tempted?” she asked.
The former president laughed before responding.
“I guess step one is, have I ever been tempted to defend myself publicly? And the answer’s no. Not really. Look, I’m out,” he said.
“Yeah, I guess I have been (tempted), sure. Anyone in particular? No, I think I’m fine. If I did, Michelle Obama might not be my friend.”
He said the public’s surprised reaction to his friendship with the former first lady highlighted how “bitter” America has become about politics.
Kotb took that chance to segue into a discussion of the Capitol riot on January 6.
“When you were watching that unfold, what was going on in your mind?” she asked.
“It kind of made me sick,” said Mr Bush.
“I felt ill. And I just couldn’t believe it. You know? The truth of the matter is I was optimistic that we would survive that, because I believe so strongly in the institutional stability of our country. And it did survive.
“What’s really troubling is how much misinformation there is. The capacity of the people to spread all kinds of untruth.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do about that. I know what I’m doing about it. I don’t do Twitter or Facebook or any of that stuff.”
Mr Bush was also asked to address the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of murdering George Floyd.
The jury is currently deliberating. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of up to 40 years in jail.
“I think the first thing is that people (have to) know that the trial has been conducted fairly, and that the rule of law reigns supreme in our judiciary,” Mr Bush said.
“We’ll see what a jury of his peers says. You know, I think a lot of people have already made up their minds about what the verdict ought to be. All I can tell you is that if the trial is not conducted fairly, there is an appeal process.
“One of the things we learned after the storming of the Capitol was that our institutions held. It’s really important for the confidence of the American people that there is a fair judicial system, and I think that’s what is playing out on our TVs right now.”