Former President George W. Bush isn't quite a George Washington or an Abraham Lincoln, his former campaign strategist Karl Rove admitted to ABC News on Thursday, but according to Rove, he's not too far off.
“The greats, you can't touch: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, FDR," Rove said in Dallas at the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center. "But yeah, I'd put him up there."
Rove's claim came after an aggressive defense of Bush's legacy, which he said history would view favorably more quickly than most thought. Bush left office in 2009 as the most unpopular outgoing president in the history of Gallup polling. Rove pointed to a recent poll that showed his popularity at 47 percent to argue that Bush was already experiencing a turnaround.
Rove also said that Bush deserved more positive treatment, claiming that he "kept us safe after 9/11" and "tackled the big issues of trying to reform Social Security, Medicare, immigration, education." He also defended the Iraq War as "the right thing to do."
Bush's recent return to the main stage has highlighted the controversial decisions that he made as president, renewing a dormant battle between his supporters and his opponents. While Rove has been one of Bush's most vocal defenders, writing a column in the Wall Street Journal this week jabbing back at his former boss' critics, Bush himself has consistently maintained that his legacy doesn't need defending.
In an interview published in USA Today last week, Bush declared that "there's no need to defend myself" on issues like the Iraq War.
"I did what I did and ultimately history will judge," he said.
That said, nobody has ever said you can't attempt to nudge history into your corner. On Thursday, former President Bill Clinton ribbed Bush on that point, saying that his impressive facility was "the latest, grandest example of the eternal struggle of former presidents to rewrite history."