Before her death last year, Former First Lady Barbara Bush opened up for an upcoming biography that, among other insights, details her dislike of President Donald Trump

By Diane Herbst
March 27, 2019 04:03 PM
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Jeb Bush Campaigns With Mother Barbara Bush One Day Before SC Primary
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According to a new biography about Barbara Bush, the former first lady so disliked President Donald Trump that she kept a Trump countdown clock by her bed — and “blamed” him for a heart health episode she survived in the summer of 2016.

Journalist Susan Page shares these and other insights, The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty, based on hours of interviews with Mrs. Bush and writings from her journals.

In an adapted book excerpt published Wednesday by USA Today, Page, the paper’s Washington bureau chief, writes that Mrs. Bush was taken to the hospital in June 2016 for a “crisis” connected with her congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which Mrs. Bush called a “heart attack.” (She died last spring at 92 after forgoing ongoing medical treatment.)

According to The Matriarch excerpt, “the tumultuous presidential campaign in general and Trump’s ridicule of son Jeb Bush in particular had riled her.”

“‘Angst,’ she told me,” Page writes.

At the time, Jeb, a former Florida governor, had only recently withdrawn from a bruising and disappointing presidential primary in which Trump had made him a high-profile early target of repeated and personal attacks. After Mrs. Bush appeared in an ad for her son, Trump mocked him in January 2016: “He desperately needed mommy to help him.”

Trump built his campaign, in part, on bending the tastes and priorities of Republican to his whims: He openly — successfully — derided much of the legacy of the previous Republican president, Mrs. Bush’s son.

According to Page’s book, when Page asked Mrs. Bush last February if she still considered herself a Republican, the matriarch of a Republican dynasty replied: “I’d probably say no today.”

In essence, Page writes, she had been turned away by Trump’s rise, which transformed the Republican party into “a party she no longer recognized.”

Mrs. Bush couldn’t “understand why people” were for Trump, and “expressed astonishment that women could support him,” Page writes.

President George H. W. Bush, her husband, and President George W. Bush, her son, have had similarly sharp thoughts about their successor. In a 2017 book, the 41st president called Trump “a blowhard,” while his son, the 43rd president, said, “This guy doesn’t know what it means to be president.”

The elder Bush even voted for Hillary Clinton — the first time in his life he voted for a Democrat for president, according to Page. Mrs. Bush wrote in her diary that she could not vote for either candidate and instead wrote in Jeb’s name.

Neither the younger Bush nor his wife, former First Lady Laura Bush, voted for Trump, a family spokesman previously told PEOPLE: They also wrote in candidates.

Former First Lady Barbara Bush is reported to be in ailing health
From left: George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush in 1992
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Bush Family on Vacation
Barbara Bush and her extended family at Kennebunkport, Maine
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Mrs. Bush’s disdain for Trump began decades ago, Page writes, and she wrote in her diary in the 1990s that “Trump now means Greed, selfishness and ugly.”

After the 2016 presidential election results were in, Mrs. Bush “woke up and discovered, to [her] horror, that Trump had won,” Page writes.

When her husband called Trump to congratulate him, Trump “was very nice” and trying “to be conciliatory,” according to Page, citing Mrs. Bush’s diary. (As much as Trump has a history of denigrating his foes, he can be equally gushing about them in person — calling the New York Times a “great American jewel” after his election.)

In Trump’s call with Bush senior, “He said that George was a great president and he admired us both,” according to Mrs. Bush’s diary. “He said Jeb was strong and a great man. He is trying … at this moment … to be conciliatory. He says he wants to represent all the people.”

Two weeks after the election, she wrote a “warm” note to to First Lady Melania Trump, urging her to protect her son, Barron. But it was not the letter she thought she’d mail.

“She had drafted a funny congratulatory letter to send to Bill Clinton — assuming that he would take over the role of presidential spouse,” Page writes.

Instead, Mrs. Bush was left to observe the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, a friend gave her a presidential countdown clock which showed “how many days, hours, minutes and seconds remained in Trump’s term,” Page writes. The clock stayed in the bedroom, on her bedside table “where she could see it every day” until the day Mrs. Bush died.