Trump: The best job we did was Puerto Rico

As Hurricane Florence approaches the East Coast, President Trump praised his widely-criticized response to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Nearly 3,000 people died in the Maria's aftermath in Puerto Rico and much of the population was without power for many months after the storm.

Posted: Sep 12, 2018 9:58 PM
Updated: Sep 12, 2018 10:10 PM

What could be worse than "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job"?

How about, "I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success"?

They are statements of a piece, and on par in their lack of compassion and elegance. Both are from presidents striking the wrong tone in the devastating aftermath of a hurricane.

The first, from George W. Bush, was issued in the midst of what was becoming a genuine human tragedy of flooding, looting and death. His late reaction to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is perhaps the most out-of-touch moment for a divisive president who had a steady hand after the nation was united by terror, but saw it become divided by his war and his politics. The statement about his FEMA chief haunts the Bush legacy.

The second is something President Donald Trump said Tuesday.

It ignores the fact of devastation, a year after Hurricane Maria left nearly 3,000 Americans dead.

But in terms of comments that could haunt Trump's legacy? It has a lot of competition.

Bush didn't even declare victory when he stood under that "Mission Accomplished" banner, and spent years living it down. Trump declares victory all the time. In trade wars. Against ISIS. On North Korea. Nobody thinks anything has actually been won, but a declaration under Trump is a different thing than under other presidents.

Another potential contrast, offered by the 17th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, was the image of Trump, before a solemn speech and fitting tribute, tweeting about Russia and fist-pumping on a tarmac.

That kind of behavior makes one wonder how Trump will react at the nation's low points. 9/11 was a standout moment for Bush as a leader, when he addressed the nation. Days later he was at Ground Zero, rallying the country.

It is interesting to the point of unbelievable that Bush, who has been a favorite punching bag of Trump for years, is choosing this moment to come out of a self-imposed political exile and try to help Republican candidates in November with a series of fundraisers, mostly in Florida and Texas. The GOP under Trump is looking at a possible Democratic wave in this election not completely unlike the one in the 2006 midterm, after Katrina, when Bush's unpopularity, coupled with the unpopularity of the Iraq War, cost Republicans the House.

"While he prefers to consider himself retired from politics, President Bush recognizes how important it is to keep the Senate and decided to help a few key candidates," Freddy Ford, a Bush spokesman, told Politico.

Bush left office in 2009 so unpopular and tainted by Iraq and Katrina -- with 34% approval on his last day in office according to Gallup -- that he was essentially unwelcome on the campaign trail for Republican candidates for a decade.

Trump 's approval rating is at 36% in a new CNN poll, but he is at a different place in his presidency -- staring at his first midterm and the possibility of a Democratic takeover on Capitol Hill as well as planning a reelection campaign. In his own first midterm, Bush actually bucked history, and his party gained Senate and House seats as the country marched toward war with Iraq.

With so much of the Trump presidency still before us, it's a little hard to think about what will happen for him next. Leaving office with his low approval ratings, Bush talked about letting the historians judge him.

Americans generally have gotten kinder as the years have gone by. And his staying out of politics has surely helped. By the time Trump was inaugurated, Bush's approval was over 60%.

Since then Bush has not exactly opposed Trump, but he raised the alarm about nationalism in a speech and also seemed to contradict Trump's "America First" policy when he was honored for his work fighting AIDS in Africa.

"If we are together, nothing is impossible. If we are divided, all will fail," Bush said, quoting Churchill.

In 2010, when Republicans took control of the House from Democrats with help from tea party activists, Bush sat on the sidelines.

In successive elections, when Mitt Romney challenged President Barack Obama, Bush sat on the sidelines. When Republicans finally took control of the Senate in 2014, he sat it out.

He largely sat out 2016, too, although he did surface briefly to support his brother, whose primary campaign never really caught on, which Trump said was because of Jeb Bush's "low-energy."

But now he's back, for a short time, trying to help a very different President's GOP.

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