George W. Bush says he regrets suggesting entire GOP is ‘isolationist,’ ‘nativist’
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Bush had made the controversial comments in an interview earlier this week on NBC's "Today" as he was promoting his new book, "Out of Many, One." Bush's book includes portraits of prominent immigrants to the United States and stories about how they've contributed to the country.
Asked on "Today" to describe the current state of the GOP, Bush said it is "isolationist, protectionist and to a certain extent nativist," which is "not exactly my vision."
But in an interview Thursday with People, Bush said he regretted the broad comments about the party. He noted there are many Republicans who don't use the kind of pitched rhetoric on immigration that he told "Today" makes it "an easy issue to frighten some of the electorate."
"Really what I should have said — there's loud voices who are isolationists, protectionists and nativists, something, by the way, I talked about when I was president," Bush told People. "My concerns [are] about those -isms."
Bush continued, "I painted with too broad a brush ... because by saying what I said, it excluded a lot of Republicans who believe we can fix the problem."
Bush's comments drew backlash from Republicans on multiple fronts.
"If this is what the Republican Party thought leaders are going to be pushing, you're going to have a really rough '24," Donald Trump Jr. said in a Facebook video, arguing the immigration policy Bush is arguing for is not a winning issue. "There's a reason we have Donald Trump and it wasn't because the establishment guys like George W. Bush were successful at what they were doing."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who has led House Republicans in an effort to make securing the border a major issue, criticized Bush from another angle. He noted the most recent class of freshman House Republicans has been heralded as extraordinarily diverse.
In this Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017 file photo, former U.S. President George W. Bush speaks at a forum sponsored by the George W. Bush Institute in New York. Bush walked back some of his criticism of the modern GOP as "nativist" on Thursday. (AP)
"If I looked at the last election the Republican Party in Congress... has elected more women than at any time in the history of the Republican Party. We broadened our party with the number of minorities as well," McCarthy said. "Every single Democrat that lost -- 15 -- lost to a Republican woman or a Republican minority."
McCarthy added that Bush's description "seems quite different than what reality is playing out today" and noted that he removed former Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, known for allegedly racist comments, from his committees.
Bush on Thursday also appeared on the Hugh Hewitt radio show, where he made similar comments to those in his People interview.
"I was on the Today Show, and I unfortunately cast a pretty wide brush about the Republican Party. What I should have said if I were more circumspect was that there are some voices in our party who sound nativist," Bush told the conservative radio host.
"Certainly not all, and certainly not you. And the DACA issue is one that I think there is going to be a lot of Republicans, when the issue is explained properly, will say, yeah, let’s fix this," Bush added.
Bush in his "Today" interview did not only reserve his criticism for Republicans. He also alleged Democrats "weren't listening when I was president" and slammed open-borders policies.
"Pro-immigration basically means, 'let's just open up the borders' and nobody's really for that," Bush said. "And you can't have a country that has open borders."
Fox News will air "43 Portraits: George W. Bush" at 10 p.m. ET Sunday. Dana Perino gets an exclusive look at life after the presidency and Bush's new project, "Out Of Many, One: Portraits Of America's Immigrants."