Former President George W. Bush described today's Republican Party as “isolationist, protectionist and, to a certain extent, nativist” and said he’s especially concerned about the anti-immigration rhetoric.
“It's a beautiful country we have and yet it's not beautiful when we condemn, call people names and scare people about immigration,” Bush told NBC's “TODAY” show on Tuesday. “It’s an easy issue to frighten some of the electorate. And I’m trying to have a different kind of voice.”
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The former president acknowledged that it's hard for Americans to understand the dire situation in Central America — political upheaval, devastating earthquakes and gang violence — that causes a mother to become so desperate that she's willing to "put her children in the hands of a coyotes, human smugglers."
"The system really needs to be reformed and fixed,” he said, calling for “an asylum system that is more robust,” including hiring more immigration judges to deal with the backlog of cases and changes to work visas.
Bush, who was in New York to preside over a naturalization ceremony, said his new book, “Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants,” aims to ”elevate the discourse."
Still, Bush remains hopeful that a more moderate Republican who supports reasonable gun reform measures, increased public school funding and a path to citizenship for undocumented workers could succeed as the party's 2024 presidential candidate.
“I think that it depends upon the emphasis. I think if the emphasis [is] integrity and decency and trying to get problems solved, yeah, I think the person has a shot,” he said.
The former president did not mention Donald Trump, who aggressively curbed both legal and illegal immigration during his tenure and sought to build a “big, beautiful wall” at the southwest border with Mexico to keep out migrants. Trump, a fellow Republican, disparaged the migrants as invaders and “illegal aliens” and, as a candidate, referred to Mexicans as "rapists."
But Trump has dominated the Republican Party, even out of office. Hard-right House Republicans last week discussed forming an America First Caucus, which one document described as championing “Anglo-Saxon political traditions” and warning that mass immigration was putting the “unique identity” of the U.S. at risk.
Bush, asked to describe the state of the party, replied, “I would describe it as isolationist, protectionist and, to a certain extent, nativist.” He added, “It's not exactly my vision as an old guy, but I'm just an old guy that's put out to pasture.”