Prominent Republicans criticized President Donald Trump after he used a moment during his appearance at a rally in Montana to impugn former President George H.W. Bush.
Speaking at the rally, Trump mocked Bush’s slogan “thousand points of light,” which he popularized during his presidential campaign. The phrase later became the titular slogan for Bush’s volunteer organization, which he now serves as honorary chairman.
“You know all of the rhetoric you see. ‘Thousand points of light.’ What the hell was that by the way?” Trump said.
“Thousand points of light,” he added. “What does that mean? I know one thing. ‘Make America Great Again’ we understand. Putting America first we understand. Thousand points of light, I never quite got that one. What the hell is that? Has anyone ever figured that one out? It was put out by a Republican, wasn’t it?”
President Trump mocked the #MeToo movement in a riff on Elizabeth Warren's heritage & pondered the meaning of George H.W. Bush's "A Thousand Points of Light" during a rally in Montana last night: https://t.co/djUTzzYCny pic.twitter.com/ogRCD4yhOO
— HLN (@HLNTV) July 6, 2018
The president’s statements received a harsh rebuke from Rick Wilson, a Republican political strategist and media consultant who became well known during the 2016 presidential campaign for his vigorous denunciations of Trump and his supporters. Wilson called Trump “small, shameless, low” and “corrupt.”
George H.W. Bush led men in combat, faced death, served in government with honor, raised a magnificent family, and called us to be better people.@realdonaldtrump is a small, shameless, low, corrupt man who sullies the Presidency and deserves his coming ignominy. https://t.co/C4BCi0juue
— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) July 6, 2018
Donald Trump is unfit to shine George H.W. Bush's shoes.
— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) July 6, 2018
“This is so uncalled for,” wrote Ari Fleischer, who served as Bush’s press secretary during his tenure in the White House.
This is so uncalled for. Going after a 94-year-old, former President’s promotion of volunteerism. I don’t mind potus being a fighter. I do mind him being rude. https://t.co/Hr0d20Wuzz
— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) July 6, 2018
Richard Haas, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, also weighed in.
Truly offensive to see @realDonaldTrump mock @GeorgeHWBush given 41’s 1) life of public service; 2) commitment to volunteerism; 3) critical role in ending Cold War peacefully and on our terms and then leading world in liberating Kuwait, the 1st test of post-cold war era
— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) July 6, 2018
Joe Scarborough, who has been vocal about the love lost between him and the Republican party since Trump won the 2016 presidential election, took a moment to highlight Bush’s accomplishments.
Republicans, this is 20 year-old George Bush being pulled from the sea after being shot down by Japanese war planes. He volunteered to be one of the youngest pilots in WWII and would spend the rest of his life serving America and presiding over America’s victory in the Cold War. pic.twitter.com/oiANGauAsU
— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) July 6, 2018
Bush’s granddaughter, Jenna Bush Hager, tweeted out a quote from a letter her grandfather wrote more than 20 years ago. The subject: Kindness.
Of her grandfather’s organization’s slogan, Hager said, “a point of light was a vision about serving others, one that lit up our country, one I hope our country hasn’t lost.”
From a letter my grandfather wrote in 1997: a point of light was a vision about serving others, one that lit up our country, one I hope our country hasn’t lost. pic.twitter.com/JTq9BHcbvf
— Jenna Bush Hager (@JennaBushHager) July 6, 2018
But the former president wasn’t the only Republican leader President Trump railed against. He also chided Senator John McCain for his vote on healthcare.
Even though we got a little surprise vote that evening, you all remember that evening? Somebody came in with a thumbs down after campaigning for years that he was going to repeal and replace,” Trump said about McCain.
The reactions to the president’s comments on McCain, who is dying from brain cancer, were similarly heated.
You know what makes America great? The "honorable citizens who put their lives on the country and willingly die for the country, like George HW Bush & John McCain. Both individuals who [Trump] thanklessly stomped all over last night," says @MargaretHoover https://t.co/sCy1zsDWE3 pic.twitter.com/DXujhnGMWg
— The Lead CNN (@TheLeadCNN) July 6, 2018
I am not a Republican. But I am an American.
And I never thought I’d live to see the day that a GOP President (or any President) would mock John McCain & George H.W. Bush and praises Vladimir Putin.
And this crowd of “American patriots” eats it up? Stunning. https://t.co/lVFkz7lVbk
— Bryan Behar (@bryanbehar) July 6, 2018
John McCain is one million times the man trump will ever be.
— Michellec (@mlchesney) July 6, 2018
Trump has often mocked McCain, a former Vietnam War prisoner-of-war. He once infamously said of McCain, “I like people who weren’t captured.”
Last year, Senator McCain in an interview about the Vietnam War, appeared to mock President Trump’s draft deferments, pointing to wealthy Americans who were able to get out of being drafted into service. McCain, who during the conflict spent several years as a prisoner of war, notoriously sparred with Trump in 2016 after Trump, then a presidential candidate, doubted his status as a war hero.
“One aspect of the conflict, by the way, that I will never ever countenance is that we drafted the lowest-income level of America, and the highest-income level found a doctor that would say that they had a bone spur,” McCain said. “That is wrong. That is wrong. If we are going to ask every American to serve, every American should serve.”
Trump received five military draft deferments during the Vietnam War, including one medical deferment after he was diagnosed with bone spurs––protrusions caused by calcium built up on the heel bone––in his foot while a student at the private New York Military Academy. “I had a doctor that gave me a letter — a very strong letter on the heels,” he said during an interview with The New York Times in 2016 explaining his deferments, adding that the heel spurs were “not a big problem, but it was enough of a problem.”
The Montana rally came with more controversies, too.
President Trump launched a sustained attack against Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) during one freewheeling moment, reviving his “Pocahontas” nickname for Warren and challenged her to submit to a DNA test to prove her Native American heritage.
“I will give you a million dollars to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian,” he said. “I have a feeling she will say no. She’s based her life on being a minority.”
The president clarified that he would toss the genetic testing kit to her “gently because we’re the #MeToo generation,” a comment which mocks the international movement against sexual harassment and assault which, among many other examples, spotlighted his own sordid history of abuse and emphasized comments he made on the now-infamous Access Hollywood tape.
The irony of these comments appeared to be lost on Trump, who further used the social movement to impugn Warren:
I’m gonna get one of those little kits. And in the middle of the debate, when she proclaims that she’s from Indian heritage, because her mother says she has high cheekbones. That’s her only evidence, that her mother said she had high cheekbones.
We will take that little kit and say — but we have to do it gently, because we’re in the #MeToo generation, so we have to be very gentle. And we will very gently take that kit, and we will slowly toss it, hoping it doesn’t hit her and injure her arm, even though it only weighs probably two ounces.
President Trump appears to mock Sen. Elizabeth Warren during a rally in Montana, promising to ask her to complete a test for the results of her heritage.
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) July 6, 2018
Warren soon responded to the president’s jabs, taking his administration to task for the humanitarian crisis they’ve created––and exacerbated––along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Hey, @realDonaldTrump: While you obsess over my genes, your Admin is conducting DNA tests on little kids because you ripped them from their mamas & you are too incompetent to reunite them in time to meet a court order. Maybe you should focus on fixing the lives you're destroying.
— Elizabeth Warren (@elizabethforma) July 5, 2018
Warren’s response was a reference to reports that the U.S. government is performing DNA tests on children and parents in an attempt to reunite migrant families separated at the border as a result of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” family separations policy.
The Department of Health and Human Services will be conducting DNA tests by taking a cheek swab of every child before matching him or her with a parent. The move comes after a federal judge in the Southern District of California ordered that the government must reunite parents separated from children younger than 5 by July 10 and children ages 5-17 by July 26.
The president––and many of Warren’s critics––have alleged that Warren used false claims of Native American heritage to gain an edge over other candidates for a faculty position at Harvard University. However, a simple fact check indicates that these claims don’t hold under scrutiny.
As Snopes notes, “specific evidence that she gained her position at Harvard (at least in part) through her claims to Native American heritage is lacking.” Moreover, several people with whom Warren worked at Harvard, including David Bernstein, who is the former chairman of the American Association of Law Schools, have said that her ancestral background did not factor into the professional opportunities she received while employed at Harvard.