WASHINGTON — Steve Bannon ripped into former President George W. Bush Friday night, calling Bush’s presidency "destructive" and saying he had "embarrassed himself" with an anti-bigotry speech earlier this week that was widely perceived as a broadside against President Donald Trump.
"There has not been a more destructive presidency than George Bush’s," Bannon said remarks to the California Republican Party in which he blamed Bush and Bill Clinton for the rise of China as a world power.
Bannon's speech came the day after Bush had condemned the direction of the national discourse on Thursday at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.
"Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry and compromises the moral education of children," Bush said in comments widely seen as a dig at Trump, although the former president's spokesman denied that. "Bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed."
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Bannon, who served as campaign CEO and later as a White House adviser for Trump, also accused Bush of looking lost during the former president's speech on Thursday.
"President Bush, to me, embarrassed himself," Bannon said. "It’s clear he didn’t understand anything he was talking about…He has no earthly idea whether he’s coming or going, just like it was when he was president of the United States."
Bannon’s criticism of Bush, rendered as he paced the stage with a microphone, contrasted with his call for Republican unity in trying to pass a tax reform bill in Congress. If Republicans can’t come together to govern effectively, he said, they should be run out of office.
Bannon attacked Bush as part of a defense of the "economic nationalism" that forms the core of his own political theory and informs Trump’s policies.
"It’s not about your race, your color, your gender, your religion, your ethnicity, your sexual preference," Bannon explained. "It’s about one thing: Are you a citizen of the United States of America?"
Economic nationalism, he said, would bind the country together.
Bannon also took a whack at Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has been a thorn in Trump's side. While expressing reverence for McCain's military service and compassion for his recent cancer diagnosis, Bannon said he doesn't think much of McCain as a politician.
"He just another senator from Arizona," Bannon said.
The long-running feud between the Trump and Bush camps had cooled since Trump took the oath of office in January, but there’s little love lost between the two sides.
Trump ran straight at the Bush family legacy in defeating a field of Republican candidates that included former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is George W. Bush’s brother.
CORRECTION (Oct. 21, 2017, 2:55 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated Steve Bannon's title with the Trump campaign. He was campaign CEO, not campaign manager.
Jonathan Allen is a senior political analyst for NBC News, based in Washington.