In conversation, he deploys careful phrasing to distance himself from the family, while simultaneously keeping them close to mind. When I ask what the Bush name means to him in his current campaign, he replies that “they’ve provided their advice. Some pieces have been heeded, some pieces have not been heeded.” Sometimes, though, his phrasing is less careful. On a number of occasions, he has used the royal “we” to refer to his campaign or his family or both, like when he recently told the Associated Press, “We’re a mainstream conservative that appeals to all Republicans.”
Despite that statement, Bush hasn’t, in fact, asserted himself as a mainstream conservative, instead using the heated rhetoric of the Tea Party. At the Pasadena event, he closed by telling the crowd that they “deserve a future that springs from the wells of freedom dug deep under the ground by the founders of our great republic and the heroes of 1836”—a nod to the Texas revolution.
And yet, while a diverse swath of conservatives in the state has embraced him, some Tea Party activists who associate the Bushes with overspending and failed foreign policy have rejected him out of hand. Morgan McComb, a Dallas-based Tea Party activist, told the AP in December, “A Bush can’t be a true conservative.” P., perhaps empowered by his apparent dominance in the primary, takes that sentiment in stride. “I’ll let the voters make that final assessment as to whether or not I’m a steadfast conservative,” he tells me.
As a candidate for land commissioner, he has spent $680,000—more than 42 times as much money as his primary opponent, an east Texas businessman named David Watts. Bush’s Democratic opponent, former El Paso mayor John Cook, is barely better resourced than Watts. (Bush has more than $2.8 million on hand, while Cook and Watts together have only $2,700.) So if Bush has, essentially, a waterslide to electoral victory, why make such an effort? And why tack so far right?