The 2016 campaign, and especially the remaining candidates running for president, have made some former White House occupants nervous about America’s fate.
“I have this tiny 6-month-old baby, and I worry about our future,” Today show correspondent Jenna Bush Hager, the 34-year-old daughter and granddaughter of presidents Bush 41 and Bush 43, said Thursday during an appearance with her twin sister, Barbara, and their mother, former first lady Laura Bush.
“Because you want smart, capable people to run, and when it turns into this…!” Hager continued, not bothering to finish her sentence as the audience at the at the Women in the World summit in Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater erupted in cheers.
Hager didn’t have to mention Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, who are vying for the Republican nomination in a particularly ugly battle, or that her preferred candidate, her uncle and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, was forced from the race barely out of the starting gate.
“I was afraid Jenna wouldn’t say anything,” quipped Hager’s Today show colleague, Savannah Guthrie, who noted that when Laura appeared on the NBC morning show a few weeks ago to promote her book about women in Afghanistan, “she said she has many opinions—and that was the end of it.”
“That quiet grace that I seem to not have inherited,” joked Hager, who, along with her sister, occasionally got weepy (in a good way) when talking about her parents and family, and repeatedly likened the half-hour appearance to a therapy session.
Guthrie teased out Hager’s admission with a remark to the three Bush women that “you are reminding me when politics was a high calling.”
“It’s still a high calling,” insisted Laura, whose husband, George W. Bush, served two terms from 2001 to 2009.
“Sometimes our campaigns don’t live up to that,” Guthrie observed, without elaborating on the schoolyard name-calling and bullying that has characterized the GOP contest and is starting to seep into the Democratic competition between frontrunner Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who are beginning to trade insults in advance of the April 19 New York primary.
“I want our next president, whoever he or she might be, to have somebody who is interested in women in Afghanistan,” Laura Bush mused—an outcome that hardly seems likely if the next Leader of the Free World is someone who likes to call women who irritate him “fat pigs,” “crazy,” and “dogs.”
Guthrie asked, Laura, Jenna and Barbara—who is the CEO of the Global Health Corps, a nonprofit that focuses on the medical concerns of countries in Africa—if they’d ever consider running for public office.
“I’m too old,” claimed the 69-year-old former first lady.
“I wouldn’t be,” said Barbara, who is named after her grandmother, the wife of George Herbert Walker Bush.
“I wouldn’t be,” echoed Jenna, who noted that, as a high school senior in Austin, Texas, where her father was governor, she refused to campaign for his first White House run, telling him, “You’re not gonna win.”
The two younger women, who did take part in Bush 43’s reelection campaign in 2004, sang the praises of their parents, who provided them with a normal upbringing in which they taught to believe they were like anyone else—not the progeny of a supremely rich and powerful family.
As a little girl on Inauguration Day in 1989, “I thought everybody’s grandfather was president,” Barbara recalled.
Jenna recalled that her parents allowed them to make their own mistakes, although she didn’t mention being cited by authorities for underage drinking in Austin during her college years.
Guthrie mentioned she wished they could show the famous photo of Jenna, wearing faded jeans and walking from Air Force One after a White House trip, and sticking out her tongue at the White House press corps.
“I don’t regret that at all,” she said. “I did it to make my dad laugh.”