BUENOS AIRES — President Trump, who had a hostile relationship with the last Republican family to occupy the White House, offered nothing but praise on Saturday for former President George Bush just hours after the 41st commander in chief died at age 94.
“President George H.W. Bush led a long, successful and beautiful life,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday morning. “Whenever I was with him I saw his absolute joy for life and true pride in his family. His accomplishments were great from beginning to end. He was a truly wonderful man and will be missed by all!”
Mr. Trump’s words of admiration, delivered while in Argentina for an international summit meeting, belied his history of animosity with the Bush family. Mr. Trump eviscerated Mr. Bush’s son Jeb Bush during the 2016 Republican primaries and regularly disparaged another of his sons, former President George W. Bush, for the way he ran the country. The elder Mr. Bush refused to support Mr. Trump in 2016, voting instead for Hillary Clinton.
The passing of the former president raised a thorny question for his family and for the current president — will Mr. Trump come to the funeral? Senator John McCain, another stalwart of a past Republican generation, made a point of excluding Mr. Trump from his funeral in September, but Mr. Bush’s wishes are not known. It is traditional for the incumbent president to speak at services for a former president, but there have been exceptions.
Mr. Trump has not had much experience in his two years in office at playing the role of national healer in moments of mourning like this. His instincts tend toward the bellicose and he has mocked the notion of being presidential. But in the hours since Mr. Bush’s death, he has gone further than he ever did with Mr. McCain in embracing the Bush legacy, aware of the enormous affection for the former president across party lines.
Mr. Trump’s very presidency, however, stands as a rebuke to Mr. Bush — never a proponent of “kinder and gentler” politics, Mr. Trump prefers a brawl, even with his own party, and represents a more conservative approach to domestic policy at home and an America First policy abroad that repudiates Mr. Bush’s staunch internationalism.
In effect, Mr. Trump has made clear that he sees the go-along-to-get-along style that defined Mr. Bush’s presidency as inadequate to advance the nation in a hostile world. Gentility and dignity, hallmarks of Mr. Bush, are signs of weakness to Mr. Trump.Image Former President George Bush, who died on Friday, in Virginia in 2006 with his sons Jeb Bush, then governor of Florida, and former President George W. Bush. Credit Matthew Cavanaugh/EPA, via Shutterstock
His trip here to Buenos Aires, in fact, was built in part around dismantling Mr. Bush’s legacy. Just Friday, Mr. Trump signed a new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement first negotiated by Mr. Bush, which he disparaged as bad for the United States. “The terrible NAFTA will soon be gone,” he wrote on Twitter.
Mr. Trump was never as harsh publicly about the patriarch of the Bush family as he was about its other members, but as recently as this fall, he mocked a famous phrase from the former president’s 1989 inaugural address, “a thousand points of light,” which Mr. Bush used to describe Americans coming together as volunteers to improve their communities and their country.
“It’s so easy to be presidential,” Mr. Trump said at a campaign rally in Wheeling, W.Va., in September. “But instead of having 10,000 people outside trying to get into this packed arena, we’d have about 200 people standing right there. O.K.? It’s so easy to be presidential. All I have to do is ‘Thank you very much for being here, ladies and gentlemen. It’s great to see you off — you’re great Americans. Thousand points of light.’ Which nobody has really figured out.”
“And in the meantime,” he added, “everything’s going to be dying, and your coal and everything else. No, no. We gotta keep it going the way it’s going. Do we agree? Do we agree?”
For his part, Mr. Bush was never impressed by Mr. Trump. “I don’t like him,” Mr. Bush told the historian Mark K. Updegrove in May 2016. “I don’t know much about him, but I know he’s a blowhard. And I’m not too excited about him being a leader.” Rather than being motivated by public service, Mr. Bush said, Mr. Trump seemed to be driven by “a certain ego.”
But he recognized that Mr. Trump was at the forefront of change. “I’m worried that I will be the last Republican president,” he told Mr. Updegrove, who later wrote “The Last Republicans” about Mr. Bush and George W. Bush.
The current president sought to put that history aside on Saturday, even citing Mr. Bush’s “thousand points of light” in the written statement that he authorized aides to release in the immediate hours after the former president’s death.
“President Bush inspired generations of his fellow Americans to public service — to be, in his words, ‘a thousand points of light’ illuminating the greatness, hope, and opportunity of America to the world,” the statement said.
Follow Peter Baker on Twitter: @peterbakernyt.