President George H.W. Bush’s funeral, by design, was not about the sitting commander in chief, but there were moments when Donald Trump’s presence was paramount.
The 41st president’s son, George W. Bush, never mentioned the 45th president by name during his humorous and emotional eulogy for his father. But there were moments during his remarks that made clear the deep differences between the elder Bush and Trump.
“Of course, dad taught me another special lesson; he showed me what it means to be a president who serves with integrity, leads with courage and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our country,” the 43rd president said in his familiar Texas drawl.
“When the history books are written they will say that George H.W. Bush was a great president of the United States, a diplomat of unmatched skill, a commander in chief of formidable accomplishment and a gentleman who executed the duties of his office with dignity and honor,” he said.
Watch: President George W. Bush’s Full Eulogy to His Father
The passage instantly brought back memories of past remarks from both Bushes about the sitting president. The father in May 2016 called Trump a “blowhard,” adding, “I don’t like him.” And the son broke what mostly has been a post-presidency silence in an extraordinary October 2017 speech in which he eviscerated the president — though without naming him.
“We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty,” the 43rd president said. “We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism. Forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America. … The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.”
Trump sat in the front row as Bush spoke from a pulpit inside the ornate Washington National Cathedral. As he often does when he seems agitated, the president crossed his arms tightly across his chest.
At another moment, the son lauded his father as an “empathetic man” who was “no cynic,” adding, “Dad taught us that public service is noble and necessary, that one can serve with integrity.”
The sitting chief executive’s critics, including the Bushes at times, have described him as displaying qualities that fall short of ones on that list. After the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, charged Trump and his administration with failing to provide Puerto Rico the same level of hurricane aid they did for Florida and Texas, Jeb Bush weighed in.
“Puerto Ricans deserve consistency and compassion in both action and tone from the Trump Administration. It’s about them, not about @POTUS,” the former Florida governor and Trump’s 2016 GOP primary foe tweeted in October 2017.
As he began his eulogy, George W. Bush did not welcome the current occupant of the Oval Office, who huddled with the family at Blair House on Tuesday evening, by name.
Instead, he thanked all the “distinguished guests including our presidents and first ladies, government officials, foreign dignitaries and friends” for filling the massive cathedral to bid his father farewell.
In one of the most anticipated political moments in some time, all eyes were on Trump and first lady Melania Trump when they walked slowly into the cathedral at 10:49 a.m. The 45th chief executive took his place in the front row alongside the “Presidents Club” and every living first lady.
The scene put Trump face-to-face with his 2016 general election foe, Hillary Clinton, and several former presidents whom he has sharply criticized since even before he announced his candidacy in 2015. Trump was one of the biggest pushers of the “birther” movement that led President Barack Obama to release his long-form birth certificate. The incumbent still regularly pans Obama and Hillary Clinton.
The first couple strode to their seats on the left side of the first row where Presidents Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter were already seated with their wives. Melania Trump shook hands with the Obamas and President Clinton, then smiled and waved at Hillary Clinton, as well as Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter.
President Trump removed his customary dark overcoat and handed it to a military aide, then leaned in to shake the hands of both Barack and Michelle Obama. Bill Clinton looked toward the 45th president with a grin, but Trump did not acknowledge the look. But in one of the day’s most poignant political moments, Hillary Clinton just stared straight ahead with a stone-faced expression as a choir sang a somber hymn.
Through laughter and tears
But the funeral was mostly about the patriarch of the Bush family. There were humorous anecdotes and stories about the 41st commander in chief’s sense of humor and ones about his toughest decisions as president.
Historian Jon Meacham delivered the first eulogy, drawing hearty laughs from the Bush family when he noted that former “Saturday Night Live” star Dana Carvey once remarked of his world-renowned impression of Bush during his time in office: “The key to a Bush 41 impersonation is Mr. Rogers trying to be John Wayne.”
Former Wyoming GOP Sen. Alan K. Simpson, a longtime friend of the late president, recalled his old pal’s comment after deciding to support a legislative package that would force him to break his “No New Taxes” pledge: “When the really tough choices come, it’s the country not me. It’s not about Democrats or Republicans. It’s for our country that I fought for.”
Watch: Simpson’s Energetic and Joyful Tribute to Bush at Funeral
But perhaps the most striking moment came at the end of George W. Bush’s remarks, when he imagined his father reunited with his wife, Barbara Bush, who died earlier this year, and daughter Robin Bush, who died of leukemia when she was only three years old.
“So through our tears, let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you, a great and noble man, the best father a son or daughter could have,” the 43rd president said, bowing his head and growing emotional.
“And, in our grief,” he said while fighting through tears, “let us smile knowing that dad is hugging Robin and holding mom’s hand again.”