Advisers to Jeb Bush in this crucial early primary state have asked national campaign officials in recent weeks to send in George Bush, 69, who so far has appeared only at private fund-raisers, to vouch for his younger brother on the campaign trail…
Tim Miller, Jeb Bush’s communications director, suggested that the campaign was open to having George Bush appear at rallies for his brother before the state’s primary in February.
“To the extent it makes sense on the campaign, we’re going to be happy to have his support, and I know President Bush is willing to help,” Mr. Miller said. “Jeb is running on his record, but there is obviously tremendous respect for and good will toward President Bush in the party and beyond thanks to his leadership in a time of crisis for this country.”
As for the danger of the former president’s undermining his brother’s prospects in a general election, supporters of Jeb Bush believe the Democrats will try to link the two regardless of whether George Bush engages more in the contest.
Plan A for Jeb was to scare rivals out of the race by raising a mountain of cash off of family connections, then bounce out to an early (and ultimately insurmountable) lead based on family name recognition, and then spend the rest of the campaign insisting that it’s unfair to judge him based on his family’s record. None of that worked so we’re on to Plan B, doing anything he can to muscle his way back into the top tier before Rubio supplants him as the most electable pro-amnesty center-right guy from the must-win swing state. The risk, of course, is that photo ops with Dubya will make it easy for Democrats to attack Jeb as a clone of his brother, especially on foreign policy, but they were going to do that anyway so Team Jeb might as well embrace it and get some benefits out of it. Bush 43 isn’t nearly as unpopular as he used to be: The NYT had his favorable rating at 71/10 among Republicans in a poll conducted in May. A few months before that, PPP had it at 77/17. This past summer, a CNN poll pegged George W. Bush’s favorable rating among all American adults at 52/43, the first time he’s been north of 50 percent among the general public since leaving office (I believe). I’d bet if you polled that again today, the numbers would be at least as good and possibly better given the public’s distaste for Obama’s Iran deal and perceptions that he’s being outmaneuvered by Putin in Syria. George wouldn’t be the asset for Jeb in a general election that Bill will be for Hillary but his reputation as a “cowboy” abroad may have a bit more appreciation among swing voters than it used to thanks to Obama’s dithering professor routine.
What Dubya would do for Jeb as a campaign surrogate, though, isn’t so much a matter of popularity as it is stature. Jeb’s strategy has always been about presenting himself to GOP voters as a sort of irresistible force, with his gigantic fundraising haul (“shock and awe”) designed to persuade his critics that he couldn’t be stopped. He was never going to convince grassroots voters that they should support him enthusiastically so instead he tried to convince them that they should simply accept, however grudgingly, that the guy with the famous surname and lots of money and supposed “electability” was going to be the pick. And that strategy worked for awhile. He did lead, albeit tepidly, for awhile this past spring and there was every reason to believe the race would eventually become a “Bush versus Not Bush” referendum with some other, not quite as electable GOP candidate settling into the role of scrappy yet underfunded conservative insurgent that Santorum played for Romney in 2012. Then Trump got in and started diminishing Jeb as a low-energy beta male. Then Rubio and Fiorina each had a couple of sterling debates. Now suddenly the race looks headed for an “Outsider versus Insider” battle with Trump or Cruz or Fiorina (or Carson, I guess) in the first role and Rubio or John Kasich in the second. Bush has become an afterthought, a guy who still has tons of money but none of the important “resistance is futile” atmosphere around him that that money created for him early on. Bringing Dubya into the race, despite the risk that it’ll further convince the public that he’s a dynasty case who’d be nowhere if his name were “Jeb Smith,” might be his best chance left to restore this race to a “Bush versus Not Bush” contest, which would ensure him a spot in the final two, at least.
As for why he’s considering South Carolina specifically as the site of a Bush 43 revival, that’s easy. It’s the only one of the early states that’s a logical fit. Dubya himself famously lost New Hampshire to McCain in 2000, so that’s a nonstarter. He won Iowa that same year, but not even a former president is going to help Jeb Bush with an electorate of strong social conservatives who prefer outsiders like Trump and evangelicals like Ben Carson. South Carolina is thus the best bet for Dubya — especially since it also happens to be the early state that Marco Rubio’s eyeing most closely. If Bush can stop Rubio there, he’d be well positioned to beat him a few weeks later in Florida too, which would all but end Rubio’s campaign.
If George W. starts campaigning in earnest for Jeb, I wonder if that’ll be Mitt Romney’s cue to finally endorse and start campaigning for Rubio. Exit question: Now that Jeb’s started attacking Rubio as a “follower” of his who lacks the experience to be president, will Rubio volley back that he’s a dynast whose brother’s disastrous second term gifted us with eight years of Barack Obama? That could be a tricky argument given that, policy-wise, Rubio’s probably at least as much like Dubya as Jeb Bush himself is.