WASHINGTON — President Trump had a quick reaction on Sunday after former President George W. Bush called for national unity. He attacked Mr. Bush.
National unity, Mr. Trump made clear, was not on his agenda for the day, even as the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged the country passed 67,000 and tens of millions of out-of-work Americans struggled to get by.
Amid the death and devastation, the president was busy not only assailing Mr. Bush but another predecessor as well, embracing a fringe conspiracy theory to accuse former President Barack Obama of masterminding a “hoax” to take him down. Mr. Trump also attacked a prominent Democratic congressman, denigrated the news media and threatened to withhold aid to states hard hit by the virus unless they bowed to his demands on immigration policy.
Then he planned to end his day with a long appearance on Fox News aimed not at speaking to the country as a whole but to his political base six months to the day before the November election, headlining a virtual “town hall” on the pandemic at the Lincoln Memorial, named for another previous president who famously once warned that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
The messages of the day underscored once again that Mr. Trump does not view the presidency in the same way as its previous occupants, favoring combativeness over conciliation even in times of national crisis. For Mr. Trump, it is a formula that has worked and one that finds him at his most comfortable and confident.
He regularly scorns the notion that he should be more “presidential,” dismissing that concept as weak and boring. But it is at moments like this that his departure from the norms of his office becomes most evident.
Mr. Trump, who spent the weekend at Camp David in his first getaway since most of the nation began locking down in mid-March, seemed peeved at a three-minute video message posted by Mr. Bush that made no mention of the current president but warned against partisanship in a time of peril.
“Let us remember how small our differences are in the face of this shared threat,” Mr. Bush said in the professionally produced video set against music and photographs of medical workers helping victims of the virus and of ordinary Americans wearing masks. “In the final analysis, we are not partisan combatants. We are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God. We rise or fall together, and we are determined to rise.”
While Mr. Bush never mentioned Mr. Trump’s name, the sitting president clearly took the message as an implicit rebuke. In a Twitter message, Mr. Trump paraphrased a Fox News personality saying, “Oh bye the way, I appreciate the message from former President Bush, but where was he during Impeachment calling for putting partisanship aside.”
Mr. Trump then added in his own voice: “He was nowhere to be found in speaking up against the greatest Hoax in American history!”
Hours later, Mr. Trump went after another predecessor, reposting a tweet from a pro-Trump website accusing Mr. Obama of plotting against him. “Evidence has surfaced that indicates Barack Obama was the one running the Russian hoax,” said the original message retweeted by the president.
Mr. Trump also reposted messages attacking Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the leader of the House managers who prosecuted the president at his Senate impeachment trial this year, and vowing to deny federal money to bail out states that maintain sanctuary policies protecting some illegal immigrants. In a less feisty moment, the president did take time out to post a message praising his golf course in Scotland.
Mr. Bush’s video message was part of a series of videos aired online as part of a 24-hour live-streamed project, “The Call to Unite,” that also featured Oprah Winfrey, Tim Shriver, Julia Roberts, Martin Luther King III, Sean Combs, Quincy Jones, Naomi Judd, Andrew Yang and others.
Mr. Bush’s office said he had no response to Mr. Trump’s message. “The video was a part of an event called ‘A Call to Unite,’” said Freddy Ford, the former president’s chief of staff. “I hope those covering it will resist the temptation to use it as a call to divide.” Mr. Obama’s office had no comment.
Former President Bill Clinton also delivered a message, speaking into a camera in what looked like a video chat from his home. “We need each other, and we do better when we work together,” he said. “That’s never been more clear to me as I have seen the courage and dignity of the first responders, the health care workers, all the people who are helping them to provide our food, our transportation, our basic services to the other essential workers.”
Mr. Trump has declined to call on his predecessors to help bring the country together during the pandemic. Past presidents made a point of enlisting former occupants of the White House from both parties in times of crisis to demonstrate national resolve and unity.
Mr. Bush recruited his father, former President George Bush, and Mr. Clinton to respond to a devastating tsunami in Asia and then to Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Obama asked the younger Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton to respond to an earthquake in Haiti.
Mr. Trump, for his part, has dismissed the idea of calling his predecessors for help, either to participate or even to offer advice. “I don’t think I’m going to learn much,” he said when asked about the idea in March. “I guess you could say that there’s probably a natural inclination not to call.”
Mr. Bush has never been a fan of his fellow Republican president. Mr. Trump defeated his brother Jeb Bush for the nomination in 2016 and has criticized the 43rd president’s record repeatedly. Mr. Bush refused to support Mr. Trump that fall, saying he had voted for “none of the above” instead. While disturbed by Mr. Trump’s leadership, Mr. Bush has largely kept quiet since then with a couple of notable exceptions, such as a speech in New York and a eulogy for Senator John McCain that were seen as implicit rebukes of the incumbent.
In his video message on Saturday, Mr. Bush recalled the difficult days after Sept. 11, 2001. “Let us remember, we have faced times of testing before,” he said as images flashed on the screen of him comforting relatives of those killed in the attacks. “Following 9/11, I saw a great nation rise as one to honor the brave, to grieve with the grieving and to embrace unavoidable new duties. And I have no doubt, none at all, that this spirit of service and sacrifice is alive and well in America.”
Mr. Bush also called for compassion, a trait that Mr. Trump has largely eschewed during the pandemic in favor of demonstrating what he considers strength and optimism. “Let us remember that empathy and simple kindness are essential, powerful tools of national recovery,” Mr. Bush said. And he added, “Let’s remember that the suffering we experience as a nation does not fall evenly.”
The post Bush Calls for Unity. Trump Attacks Bush. And Then a Host of Others. appeared first on New York Times.