George H. W. Bush apparently won’t vote for Donald Trump and reportedly “harbors a deep disgust” for him. Still, according to The Washington Monthly’s D. R. Tucker, the “race-baiting on steroids” of Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign paved the way for Trump’s current approach.
Tucker was referring to two television ads: the so-called Willie Horton ad, from a pro-Bush PAC, and the Bush campaign’s “Revolving Doors,” which skewered the prison-furlough policy of Bush’s Democratic opponent, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, and, in Tucker’s view, “engaged in sick racial stereotyping.”
“It has become fashionable in recent years to regard George H. W. Bush as one of the ‘good’ Republicans,” wrote Tucker, “but the man had a very, very dark side…Bush didn’t hesitate to promote the idea that nonwhites were notorious for murder and mayhem. Doesn’t that sort of campaigning sound familiar?” Tucker also alleged that, like Trump, Bush “made dubious claims about media bias, smearing then-CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather in the process.”
Lee Atwater, who masterminded Bush’s 1988 campaign, apologized not long before his death in 1991 for some of his tactics. Tucker indicated that Bush should do likewise (bolding added; italics in original):
George H. W. Bush begat Donald Trump. His 1988 campaign made it politically permissible to demonize nonwhites as the epitome of danger, to lie about alleged liberal media bias, to win by any and all means necessary. Does he feel any guilt or shame or remorse about the role his actions 28 years ago played in bringing us to the threat of Trump? Bush may be old, but he is not mute. He would demonstrate honor and humility if he formally apologized for the tenor of that 1988 campaign. Will he do so before he passes on?