SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.-The 26 governors gathered here for their annual conference got a surprise lunch visitor today: former President George W. Bush.
Bush addressed a governors-only lunch in a rare political appearance on the final day of the Republican Governors Association conference. The former president declined to answer questions from reporters when he was leaving the lunch, but an aide to Bush said he was asked by Gov. Christie, the new head of the RGA, to "come surprise the governors at lunch and share some experiences from his time as governor and president."
On leaving the lunch at the posh Phonecian resort's steakhouse, Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona said Bush spoke to the group for about two hours and took questions, stopping on his way to Oklahoma.
Brewer described him as "upbeat and charismatic" and said the president, who himself served two terms as governor of Texas, "encouraged the group."
"He agreed with us that the best breeding grounds for presidents are the governors," Brewer said, adding that Brewer's question to Bush was "what was the best piece of advice his mother gave him when he became president."
Brewer said he shared some details, but "it was difficult because as we know mothers have a lot of opinions, it's always hard in my opinion to go back there."
Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina called it a "cool conversation" while she was leaving and Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma said the group agreed that the context of the discussion should be kept "in the family."
When asked about Bush supporting the idea that the next presidential nominee should come from one of the nation's statehouses as opposed to Washington, D.C., Fallin did not reveal more details of the conversation, but said: "I think in general there is a popular opinion that the leadership of the nation would benefit from the governors because we are used to governing vs. someone who has never had to govern a government operation."
During Christie's landslide re-election earlier this month in New Jersey, he was often compared to Bush and his re-election campaign in 1998. In that victory, Bush was able to attract support from traditionally Democratic constituencies, like Hispanic voters, to help vault himself to the GOP presidential nomination in 2000. Christie is likely to employ a similar strategy if he decides to run for president in 2016.
The Democratic Governor's Association pounced on the surprise visit, saying, "Republican governors are implementing the very same Bush-era economic policies that crushed the middle class for the benefit of the wealthiest Americans and major corporations."
"For the sake of the working families in their states, we're hoping they kept the discussion to the weather," DGA spokesperson Danny Kanner said in a statement.
And although the lunch, as many of the meetings here this week, was closed to the press, the food was "tasty," according to Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He wouldn't share any details about the meeting with his fellow Texan, but did say the meal was "an awesome piece of steak."