Ten Rules for Former Presidents

Shortly before George W. Bush took office on January 21st, 2001, his father – the 41st President of the United States – wrote a piece for FYI magazine, a publication of Forbes and edited by President Bush 41’s former speechwriter and good friend, Christopher Buckley. The piece enumerates his 10 Rules for Former Presidents.  The advice given was specifically for the outgoing president, William Jefferson Clinton.

But since George H.W. Bush was the last President to lose his bid for re-election, the advice is even more relevant for Donald Trump. They are hardly kindred spirits, but President Trump would do well to listen to the advice of the last one-term president, who by the time he died in 2018 was revered not only in the United States but around the country. It is just possible President Bush knew what he was talking about.

The essay was provided by President Bush’s longtime chief of staff, Jean Becker, and is included in her book about him, The Man I Knew, which will be released June 1st.

Ten Rules for Former Presidents

  1. Get out of Dodge – fast. You’re history on that cold January day, so be pleasant about it all. Smile a lot. Try not to wave to the huge inaugural crowd too much. They’re there to see the new guy.
  2. As you fly back home on Air Force One, look around. Take a shower. Grab a few napkins and some notepads and Lifesavers with the Presidential seal on them. Lie down on the bed in the President’s cabin because 34E on the commercial airlines is quite different.
  3. When you get off Air Force One, wave from the top of the steps because a TV camera from the local station will probably be there. “How does it feel to be home?” [the reporter] will ask. “Great to be back!” And you look ahead and try not to think what it used to be like just four or five hours before. You’ll hurt a little, but that will go away – sooner than you might think.
  4. Don’t try to shape history by writing op-ed pieces all the time or by criticizing your successor. If you really want to make news and get back on TV, you’ll find the best way to do that is to criticize your successor. Don’t! If you really feel strongly about something, drop your successor a line but don’t leak it to the press. The important thing is to quit worrying about your legacy. It’s up to others to decide that.
  5. When you’re out walking your dog, try not to argue when you see the guy down the street who always insists on giving you his views on every issue. Oh, you’ve got to listen, but it is better to nod silently and not disagree when he says, “You should’ve invaded Cuba and gotten the CIA to knock off Saddam Hussein” … smile pleasantly and try to keep moving.
  6. Play some golf but resist telling everyone what it was like to play with Jack [Nicklaus] or Arnie [Palmer] at the course near Camp David. No one wants to know how many times you had the legends of sports to the White House. (They didn’t really love you. They just wanted to see the White House.)
  7. Be nice to all autograph seekers, tourists, and people who interrupt your dinner. After all, some of them probably voted for you, and those who didn’t will swear they now wish they did.
  8. Remember the five “stay” rules:
    1. Stay out of the way, out of Washington, out of the news, away from press conferences, off the TV.
    2. Stay away from bashing the national press, even those that knocked your socks off when you were President.
    3. Stay away from most of those ‘yellow pad’ think tank events – the ones where the conference proceedings are carefully written then printed, never to be read by anyone ever again. You might want to consider the occasional world peace seminar in Bermuda but be sure the organizers get you a tee time.
    4. Stay away from saying, “Here’s the way I did it.” You had your chance.
    5. Stay well. And when you get older, resist telling everyone about which body part hurts. Drink bulk stuff, exercise, stretch, keep younger people around you. Smile a lot. Feel young at heart.
  9. Always count your blessings. Quietly remember the wonders of the White House. Never forget the many people that helped you get there, those that worked in your administration, or the dedicated civil servants who treat the White House with such respect and dignity while making those who live there feel “at home.” Remember the majesty of the Oval Office. And as the years go by, give thanks to God for your family, your true friends, and for having given you the chance to be President of the greatest country on the face of the earth.
  10. Hug your grandkids. If you don’t have any, get some. And if by chance you have a son or daughter who has a chance to be President of the USA, ask yourself, “Might this really come true? Only in America!”

Jean Becker

Jean Becker was chief of staff for George H. W. Bush from March 1, 1994, until his death on November 30, 2018. She previously served as deputy press secretary to First Lady Barbara Bush from 1989 to 1992.

Before joining the Bush White House staff in 1989, Ms. Becker was a newspaper reporter for ten years, including a four-year stint at USA Today where her duties included covering the 1988 presidential election and being a Page One editor.

Her book about Mrs. Bush, Pearls of Wisdom, became a New York Times best-seller when it was released on March 3, 2020. Her book about President Bush’s post-presidency, The Man I Knew, will be released June 1st. She lives in Houston, Texas.