Barbara Bush lived a long life in the spotlight as the wife of the 41st president and mother of the 43rd — but in recent years she made headlines more often as a critic of President Donald Trump. According to a new book by Susan Page, The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty, Barbara Bush even blamed Trump for her heart problems.
Bush struggled with congestive heart failure for many years before she died last year, according to Page's book. But her health took a turn for the worse in June 2016, around the time Trump was securing the Republican nomination over Jeb Bush and other contenders. After going to the hospital in an ambulance, the former first lady reportedly mentioned Trump.
"The tumultuous presidential campaign in general and Trump's ridicule of son Jeb Bush in particular had riled her," Page writes, per USA Today. "'Angst,' she told me." Page continues, "Afterward, Jeb, whose presidential campaign was already history, urged her to let it go, to focus on herself and have faith in the country."
Barbara died on April 17, just months after her husband passed away. Melania Trump attended her funeral instead of the president, and the White House insisted that POTUS avoided the event because he didn't want to add the disruption of additional security.
But some analysts suspected that wasn't the real reason for Trump's absence. BBC journalist Anthony Zurcher wrote that the president's "feud with the Bush family" might have been to blame. Trump and President George W. Bush seem to mutually dislike each other, but Barbara was also quick to criticize the president. While Trump was still campaigning in 2016, she told CNN, "I don't understand why people are for him."
She also wrote in Jeb's name instead of Trump's that November, saying she also couldn't stomach voting for Hillary Clinton, according to Page's book. Page writes that Barbara even kept a Trump countdown clock by her bed until the day she died.
At the end of her life, the former first lady also apparently experienced a more general disenchantment with the GOP, which has publicly stood by the president even while criticizing him privately. According to Page, she no longer considered herself a Republican at the time of her death.
"In an interview with me in October 2017, she answered that question yes," Page writes, per USA Today. "When I asked her again four months later, in February 2018, she said, 'I'd probably say no today.'" Page calls that a "stunning acknowledgement" for a woman so closely associated with multiple Republican administrations.
Despite this, Trump ordered flags throughout the country to be flown at half-staff after Barbara's death last April.
"Mrs. Bush was an advocate of the American family," Trump said in his announcement. "Mrs. Bush lived a life that reminds us always to cherish our relationships with friends, family, and all acquaintances. In the spirit of the memory of Mrs. Bush, may we always remember to be kind to one another and to put the care of others first."