Laura Bush has some very specific ideas about what the country’s next president should prioritize. “I want our next president—whoever he or she might be—to be somebody who is interested in women in Afghanistan,” said the former first lady at the New York Times’ annual Women in the World summit last week. She also said that her ideal candidate would “continue U.S. policies” and “continue to do what we’re committed to do as a country.”
Hmmm. A would-be commander-in-chief who’s deeply committed to the well-being of Afghan women and generally supports carrying on the course set by our current president—does that sound like any candidate we know?
Plenty of news outlets seem to think so. “Laura Bush hints she’d rather see Hillary as president,” declared the Telegraph on Friday; “This Unlikely Former First Lady Hints at Supporting Clinton Over Trump,” echoed Fortune. A spokesman for the Bush family told CBS News that Bush’s remarks should not be taken as an endorsement of Hillary Clinton. “[Media outlets] are definitely trying to make this into something it isn’t. Nowhere did she name any candidates,” he said.
But it wouldn’t be that surprising if she did endorse Clinton. Though Bush is a registered Republican, she was a Democrat in her younger years, and she has teamed up with Clinton to advocate for Afghan women’s rights in the past. Bush made the issue a key component of her public platform as first lady; Clinton blurbed Bush’s just-published book, We Are Afghan Women. The two help lead Georgetown University’s U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council together. Clinton’s leadership on the issue has been more than nominal: The Los Angeles Times reported in 2012 that Afghan women leaders email Clinton’s staff on the regular and consider the candidate a “conscience of the world” on behalf of their struggles.
If the rights and freedoms of Afghan women are Bush’s main concern in the voting booth, as she’s indicated they are, she won’t find any solace in the current Republican slate. Donald Trump has advocated for the murder of the wives and children of ISIS members, whose numbers are rising in Afghanistan, and Ted Cruz has said he’d “carpet-bomb ISIS into oblivion,” which would undoubtedly harm civilian Afghan women as well. As for the Democrats: Bernie Sanders hasn’t advocated for war crimes in the manner of these esteemed Republican candidates, but he certainly hasn’t led on Afghan women’s rights the way Clinton has.
Whether or not she backs Clinton in the election, it’s safe to say that Bush will resist any party-driven temptation to join Trump’s camp. She’s previously let on that she doesn’t approve of Trump’s brand of blind nativism. “We have a tendency in the United States, and it’s happened other times in our history, to become sort of isolationist and xenophobic,” she lamented to USA Today in an interview promoting her new book. Fortune and the Daily News reported that, in her Women in the World address, Bush launched an even more pointed jab at Trump: “I understand that Americans are angry and frustrated, but we do not need someone in the Oval Office who mirrors and inflames our anger and frustration.” George W. Bush used that same line in support of Jeb Bush during the latter’s ill-fated presidential bid earlier this year.
Laura Bush knows firsthand the challenges of being the spouse of a polarizing politician. She would likely recognize the antagonism Clinton has faced as a formidable woman in the male-dominated halls of political power. Though Bush, who’s never sought political office, hasn’t drawn the same kind of misogynist ire as Clinton has, sexist narratives have followed her around, too: “Mrs. Bush…generally keeps her views to herself to avoid embarrassing her husband,” the Telegraph reported on Friday. That’s one way to look at it. Or maybe she’s a shrewd political player who keeps a reserved front so when she does make a veiled endorsement, we’ll all scramble to decode it.