Former President George W. Bush was in Philadelphia Friday afternoon to raise money for Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, but his speech also served as consolation to GOP faithful who are troubled by their party’s direction.
The fundraiser at the Union League in Center City was closed to reporters, but attendees said about 200 people gathered for the lunchtime event, which cost $1,000 a head. Those willing to spend $2,500 got a photo with the former president.
“To many of us, he’s a superstar,” said Bill Wagner of Bush.
Wagner is an attorney at Fox Rothschild and proud Republican, as evidenced by his red tie covered in elephants and the letters “GOP.” He said the former president talked about what he’s been up to since he left office in 2009: helping veterans, gaining an appreciation for art and assisting with AIDS relief in Africa. But the big applause line, Wagner said, was when he brought up Latino voters:
“He said that if we’re not attracting a strong Latino vote, we’re not doing our job,” Wagner said. In fact, Bush’s 2004 re-election bid won 40 percent of the Latino vote. That was the greatest support for a Republican candidate since the 1980s, but it has been declining since.
One thing that didn’t come up? Republican nominee, Donald Trump.
“Didn’t mention his name,” Wagner said. “Didn’t mention the other candidate and didn’t mention the current occupant. He talked about the role of the presidency as leader of the country, setter of the pace and said that whoever occupies the office has to be somebody who inspires people and moves the country in the direction he or she wants to go.”
Retired cardiologist Michael Ryan and his wife Priscilla said they don’t know who they’re going to vote for next month — they don’t like Trump or Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
But hearing the former president was a “refreshing” reminder of what they think the Republican Party stands for — a message they haven’t heard on the campaign trail.
“Free men are peaceful men. Free nations are peaceful nations,” said Michael Ryan. “I mean, where have we heard that?”