New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s first act as chairman of the Republican Governors Association Thursday was a secret to all but a few close aides — organizing a surprise appearance by former President George W. Bush.
The 43rd president stopped into Scottsdale, Ariz., on his way to a speech in Oklahoma on Thursday night to speak with the more than 20 Republican governors in a private lunch at the group’s fall meeting. The event, at the plush Phoenician Resort’s wood-paneled steakhouse overlooking the terraced pools and golf course here, featured short remarks from Bush and a longer question and answer session over a two-hour lunch.
“It was absolutely wonderful to have him here,” said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. “He was very upbeat and charismatic.”
Brewer said Bush offered advice to the GOP governors as the 2014 and 2016 races approach. “He encouraged all of us and said the best breeding ground for presidents are the governors,” she said. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said it was a “family meeting” and therefore wouldn’t reveal Bush’s message to the group.
“Governor Christie asked President Bush to come surprise the governors at lunch and share some experiences from his time as Governor and President,” said a Bush spokesman. As he exited the lunch, Bush declined to talk to reporters.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has had a troubled relationship with his immediate predecessor, described the lunch as “Tasty. It was a tasty piece of steak.”
Democratic Governors Association spokesman Danny Kanner was quick to blast Republicans for inviting the former president.
“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,” he said in a statement. “For the sake of the working families in their states, we’re hoping they kept the discussion to the weather.”