In a clandestine meeting with 100 Jeb Bush donors, George W. Bush said some nasty things about his brother’s biggest rival. It isn’t frontrunner Donald Trump, whose repeated insults have taken a toll on Jeb Bush. And it isn’t Jeb’s former understudy Marco Rubio. According to Bush, Senator Ted Cruz poses the biggest threat to his brother’s campaign.
After comparatively pleasant words about the other GOP candidates, Bush surprised the audience by launching into a tirade against Ted Cruz. “I just don’t like that guy,” said the former president to a shocked audience.
“I was like, ‘Holy shit, did he just say that?’” said one of the donors. “I remember looking around and seeing that other people were also looking around surprised.”
Bush looks down on Cruz’s alleged alliance with Donald Trump. The two stood together last month as they co-hosted a rally in protest of the Iran deal. While the Donald doesn’t think twice before criticizing just about anyone, Cruz has somehow remained immune. In the words of one of the donors, Bush “found it ‘opportunistic’ that Cruz was sucking up to Trump and just expecting all of his support to come to him in the end.”
This enmity between Bush and Cruz isn’t new. In a book published just this year, Ted Cruz tore apart Bush’s record, complained about his foreign policy, and blamed the Bush administration for allowing “bigger government and excessive spending and new entitlements.”
One donor suspects that Bush feels insulted by Cruz’s takeover of Texas Republicans: “He sort of looks at this like Cruz is doing it all for his own personal gain, and that’s juxtaposed against a family that’s been all about public service and doing it for the right reasons. He’s frustrated to have watched Cruz basically hijack the Republican Party of Texas and the Republican Party in Washington.”
Not only is Cruz the senator of Bush’s home state, he is also Bush’s former employee. While it may seem that Marco Rubio is more of a threat, Bush warned the audience not to doubt Ted Cruz’s strength, noting that Cruz will be a formidable opponent in the South.
Bush’s criticism of Marco Rubio, on the other hand, was far more polite. After a few compliments, Bush said, “He’s a young, first-term senator; I’m not sure if that qualifies you to be president. Of course, if he wins [the nomination], I’ll be back here next year telling you that doesn’t matter.”
Despite what donors are saying, Bush spokesperson Freddy Ford rejected the idea that Cruz will be Jeb’s main obstacle. “The first words out of President Bush’s mouth last night were that Jeb is going to earn the nomination, win the election, and be a great President,” he said. “He does not view Senator Cruz as Governor Bush’s most serious rival.”
Other than unloading on Ted Cruz, Bush spoke of his brother’s qualifications and highlighted the differences between the two Bushes, making sure to focus on immigration (remember that George W. Bush was the last Republican to win a big percentage of the Latino vote).
The former president has appeared at four of his brother’s fundraisers during the past month. He is scheduled to appear with his father in Houston this weekend at another of Jeb’s functions, during which donors will have the rare chance to see two former US presidents in the same room. Bush made it a point, however, to mention that he will not be joining his brother on the campaign trail. “He wants to be helpful and supportive like any brother would be. But he said, ‘You’re not going to see a lot of me,’” said one of the donors.
Cruz’s only response to all this was a friendly statement issued on Monday:
“I have great respect for George W Bush, and was proud to work on his 2000 campaign and in his administration,” Cruz said. “It’s no surprise that President Bush is supporting his brother and attacking the candidates he believes pose a threat to his campaign. I have no intention of reciprocating. I met my wife Heidi working on his campaign, and so I will always be grateful to him.”