During an appearance on Monday's “Today Show” to promote his new book, “Portraits in Courage,” former President George W. Bush was asked by Matt Lauer to comment on President Trump's first month in office, including his relationship with the media.
After reminding Bush that he was also harshly criticized by the media at times, Lauer deftly asked if he at any time considered the media to be an “an enemy of the people.” Bush responded, in part:
“I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy, that we need an independent media to hold people like me to account. Power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive and it's important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere.”
Multiple news outlets, including The New York Times, ran stories suggesting that Bush's comments were a criticism of Trump. The NYT said:
Former President George W. Bush implicitly criticized President Trump on Monday, taking issue with his approach to immigration and the news media, and suggested that any ties between the new president’s team and Russia should be investigated.
But on Wednesday, Bush pushed back.
During a question-and-answer session at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, a stop on his book tour, Bush said that his comments on “Today” have been misconstrued:
“I’m asked the question, ‘Do I believe in free press?’ and the answer is absolutely, I believe in free press … because the press holds people to account.
Power is very addictive and it's corrosive if it becomes central to your life and therefore there needs to be an independent group of people who hold you to account.
And so I answered that question and of course the headlines were, ‘Bush criticizes Trump.’ And so therefore I needed to say, ‘There should be a free and independent press, but it ought to be accurate.’”
Bush reiterated comments he's made several times since leaving the presidency:
“I don’t want to make the president’s job worse, no matter what political party it is. It’s a hard job. Sometimes my remarks can be construed as criticism. They’re certainly not meant to be, and after I finish this book tour you probably won’t hear from me for a while.”
But Bush did implicitly criticize “one of [his] successors,” when asked if the world is more dangerous than it was four years ago:
“This may be taken as criticism of one of my successors and I don’t really mean it to be. There is a lesson however when the United States decides not to take the lead and withdraw.
Vacuums can be created when U.S. presence recedes and that vacuum is generally filed with people who don’t share the ideology, the same sense of human rights and human dignity and freedom that we do.”
That “former successor” is “ready to roll,” according to former Attorney General Eric Holder.
Politico reported that during a discussion with reporters at a briefing for the new National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), Holder said his friend and former boss was anxious to jump back into the political arena:
“It’s coming. He’s coming. And he’s ready to roll. [Obama] will be a more visible part of the effort.”
The NDRC, chaired by Holder, “is building a targeted, state-by-state strategy that ensures Democrats can fight back and produce fairer maps in the 2021 redistricting process,” according to its website.
While Bush promises to slip back into relative obscurity, Obama reportedly plans to do anything but. In what some critics refer to as a “shadow government,” Obama is reportedly setting up an organization in an effort to not only protect his legacy but to thwart President Trump and his initiatives.
Not all Democrats are thrilled with the reports of Obama's planned efforts. As reported by The Daily Beast, Democratic operatives have referred to another Obama effort — Organizing for Action — as “the devil.”
Meanwhile, George W. Bush will keep a low profile, spend some time at his ranch in Crawford, and do a bit of painting — while “politics as usual” continues.