To smart commentators like Jonathan Chait, the reliance on George W. and 9/11 seemed “bizarre.” But if you look at the polls, it makes sense. According to a September YouGov survey, 79 percent of Republicans approve of the way George W. handled himself as president. Eighty-one percent think he did a good job keeping America safe. A plurality would vote for him in 2016. No wonder that when Bush invoked his brother standing amid the rubble of 9/11, the crowd at the GOP debate roared.
The survey also confirms that nothing else Bush has said excites Republican voters nearly as much. When asked whether Jeb “would do a better or a worse job than George W. Bush,” Republicans answered “worse” by a margin of almost three to one. It’s not entirely clear why this is. But clearly, George W. was a far better campaigner. Bush fumbles for words like his older brother, but lacks his macho charm. And Bush’s effort to rouse ordinary Republicans by trumpeting his record as Florida governor, which ended more than eight years ago, is failing badly.
So it makes sense for him to return to the subject that has worked so far. The problem is that while being George W.’s brother helps Bush with Republican donors and voters, it hurts with Americans as a whole. By a margin of 11 points, Americans disapprove of the way George W. handled the presidency. By 15 points, they don’t think he did a good job keeping America safe. And by a margin of 45 points, they wouldn’t vote for him in 2016.