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Presidents club assembles for Bush funeral, Trump on fringes

AP  |  Washington 

The nation's most exclusive fraternity the presidents club assembled Wednesday to mourn George H.W. Bush, putting on public display its uneasy relationship with the current occupant of the

It was an uncomfortable, if necessary reunion, bringing together in the same pew with past residents who have given him decidedly critical reviews.

The late Bush was the de facto of the modern incarnation of the president's club, transcending contentious campaigns and party lines to bring together fractious personalities who share that rarified experience.

But the staid group of occupants has been disturbed since Donald Trump's election. And since his swearing-in, Trump has spurned most contact with his predecessors and they have snubbed him in return.

The ceremony's tributes often stood as a counterpoint to Trump's leadership, as eulogized Bush by recounting his life's credo, "Tell the truth, don't blame people, be strong, do your best, try hard, forgive, stay the course. added of his father: "He could tease and needle, but not out of malice."

Ahead of Wednesday's state funeral for the late president, former presidents Barack Obama, and and their spouses chatted easily among themselves from their seats in the front row at

The ex-presidents leaned over their wives to chat with one another. and former shared a quiet conversation.

But the Trumps' arrival, minutes ahead of the motorcade carrying Bush's casket, cast an icy pall on the conversation. approached first, greeting both Obamas and former Clinton with a handshake.

The then shook hands with both Obamas before taking his seat. stared straight ahead as the Trumps arrived, and the Carters appeared not to recognize his arrival at all.

After that, the small talk along the row largely stopped.

Next followed George W. Bush, who, by contrast, shook hands with the entire row of dignitaries and appeared to share a moment of humour with Michelle Obama, slipping something into her hand. Bush took his seat across the aisle from the ex-presidents, with the rest of the

The Trump-Obama handshake marked the first direct interaction between the and his immediate predecessor since 2017. Trump has not spoken to Clinton or Obama since that day.

He did speak with the younger Bush during the contentious confirmation process for Justice Brett Kavanaugh, as the previous helped lobby for his former Democrat Carter has been briefed by officials on North Korea, though it was not clear if he has engaged directly with Trump.

Trump has sought to meet the elder Bush's passing with grace, a contrast to the rhythms of much of his tumultuous presidency.

He came to office after a campaign in which he harshly criticized his Democratic predecessors and co-opted a once dominated by the Despite the traditional kinship among presidents, Trump's predecessors have all made their discomfort known in different ways.

"It's unusual that a cabal of ex-presidents from both parties dislike a sitting president and that's what you've got happening right now," said Douglas Brinkley, a at

By virtue of health, longevity and opportunities for continued influence, ex-presidents are sticking around longer than ever and staying active in the public eye. Past presidents often built relationships with their predecessors, Brinkley said.

"would reach out to for advice on Russia," he said.

"leaned heavily on It's endless." To be sure, Brinkley added, those ties vary from president to president and there have been chilly relationships as well, noting, for example, that "FDR would never talk to "


Busy with a mix of personal pursuits, charitable endeavours and, in some cases, paid speaking gigs the former leaders don't mingle very often, making a funeral in their group a big occasion. Bonded by the presidency, they tend to exercise caution in their comments about each other. Still, all the living former presidents have aimed barbs directly or indirectly at Trump.

In a speech in September, Obama slammed the "crazy stuff" coming out of the without directly naming Trump.

Last year, the younger Bush made a speech that confronted many of the themes of Trump's presidency without mentioning him by name, cautioning that "bigotry seems emboldened" and the nation's "seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication."

Over the summer, Carter told Post that Trump's presidency was a "disaster."

And Clinton stung by Trump's defeat of wife in the 2016 told a weekly newspaper in New York state after her stunning loss that Trump "doesn't know much."

Even the late Bush's feelings about Trump were harsh at times. In Mark K. Updegrove's book "The Last Republicans," published last year, the elder Bush called Trump a "blowhard."

The late Bush said he voted for Clinton in 2016 while said he voted for "none of the above." There have been other moments when the ex-presidents offered more sympathetic sentiments for Trump.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, December 06 2018. 00:55 IST
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