The Republican Party is in tatters. The McCain and Palin camps are busy savaging each other in the media, while the future of the Party itself is a question mark. Prominent conservative leaders met just days after the election to assess the dire situation, and similar meetings are scheduled to take place later this month.
Conventional logic dictates that George W. Bush would be fuming and that he would take this opportunity to publicly snub Obama as much as politically feasible. After all, Bush has an impressive history of disciplined partisanship, particularly when it comes down to the wire. In 2004 Bush used his popularity with the base to campaign aggressively on behalf of down-ticket Republicans, resulting in notable Republican gains in the House and Senate.
Why, then, is Bush rolling out the welcome mat for Obama? And why is political mastermind Karl Rove going out of his way to appear on talk shows and proclaim his support of Obama? Do they not comprehend the enormity of their loss?
It is equally likely, however, that Bush believes helping Obama is his one last chance to secure a legacy for himself. He has failed in virtually every arena of public policy, from the war in Iraq to the environment and from public education to infrastructure development. The one task we thought he could accomplish, capturing or killing Osama bin Laden, appears increasingly out of reach.
Bush cannot fix any of the nation’s problems at this point. His approval rating is hovering at around 24 percent, and no Congressman is willing to risk any capital to help Bush save his reputation. Maybe, just maybe, Bush realizes this and wants to ensure Obama a smooth transition in the hope that he gets some credit.
If Bush is politically savvy, and you don’t become President unless you are, he will do everything in his power to ensure Obama a smooth transition. On a very basic level, this means providing friendship, moral support, and advice. It means sharing all pertinent intelligence and keeping the lines of communication open. It means treating Obama with respect and with dignity.
It is also in Bush’s best interests to not push through too many last-minute “gotcha” pieces of legislation that will have to be reversed by an Obama administration. It goes without saying, but he should also avoid questionable pardons and commutations and other such acts that undermine the public trust. In short, Bush should just lay low.
If he plays his cards right, Bush will not be remembered as one of the worst Presidents in U.S. history. He will be remembered as the President that put aside partisan politics and helped Obama become the President we so desperately need. He will be remembered as he always wanted to be, as “a uniter, not a divider.”