George W Bush spent a decade as the record-holder for the worst US president in modern history: a stupid man who weaponized a lie to start a pointless war that rages to this day, the "Heck of a Job, Brownie" president, the "You forgot Poland" president, the "Freedom Fries" president, the torture president, the mass surveillance president, the climate denier, the chimp-faced coked up draft dodger who was a modern hereditary princeling — probably not even much fun to have a beer with.
But today, GWB is largely rehabilitated: he gets gallery shows for his shitty paintings, cuddles Michelle Obama in public, and is remembered as a statesman who seems talented, measured and statesmanlike when contrasted with the eternal dumpster fire of Donald J Trump.
GWB, of course, is the president who made Ronald Reagan — friend to terrorists and arms-smugglers, secret bomber, death-squad ally, cruel victimizer of mentally ill people, demonizer of poor people, chaser of foolish Star Wars dreams, fiddler while the AIDS crisis burned, nuclear brinksman, liner of arms-dealers' pockets — look good by comparison.
If you want to understand the reputational future of Donald J Trump, look at GW Bush. I remember thinking that it would be inconceivable for Reagan to be rehabilitated, or Nixon, or Bush, but all of them have been, in some meaningful way, remade as virtuous by the passage of time and the advent of worse monsters than they. Trump is not the cause of Trumpism — he isn't smart or effective enough to have caused it and is barely smart enough to have taken advantage of it — and the same dark forces that coughed up Trump will cough up worse-than-Trumps in the years to come. Get ready to go for a drive up the Donald J Trump Memorial Highway to visit the Donald J Trump National Park where sailors from the SS Donald Trump will be visiting on shore leave.
Washington, it seems, has developed Bush nostalgia. Just nine years after he left the White House, many conservatives pine for their misunderestimated good old boy from Texas. Looking in the rearview mirror, the last Republican president suddenly appears measured, compassionate, principled — in short, presidential. Even liberals who could not wait for Barack Obama to move into the White House are grudgingly penitent, privately admitting that they didn't appreciate Bush's good qualities.
Fifteen years since the infamous "Mission Accomplished" banner was unfurled celebrating victory in Iraq, the debate about the war rages on. Critics of the invasion believe it will always define Bush's presidency. Admirers think history will be kinder to him. We'll all be dead before there's a verdict one way or the other.
When Bush left Washington, his popularity was in the tank, with just a 33 percent approval rating. Those numbers have doubled: 61 percent of Americans, including a number of Democrats and independents, say they have a favorable view of him, according to a CNN poll released this January.
Donald Trump may be the best thing that ever happened to George W. Bush [Roxanne Roberts/Washington Post]