Can George W. Bush Save Jeb? – The Atlantic

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C.—Time and again this election, Jeb Bush has been outshone by more charismatic candidates. On Monday, there was a slight variation on the story. Once again, Jeb was outdone by a much more talented politician, but this time, it was a backer and not a rival: Jeb’s big brother George W. Bush.

It was the former president’s first appearance on the campaign trail this cycle, and it came just a few days before the South Carolina Republican primary, which is shaping up to be a make-or-break moment for Jeb. President Bush, along with his wife Laura and Senator Lindsey Graham, helped pack 3,000 people in for a rally in North Charleston. It’s proof that his popularity endures in South Carolina, but it’s too early to tell whether that popularity will prove transferrable.

Speaking for 20 minutes, George W. showed why—despite being “misunderestimated,” a malapropism he repeated for comic effect in North Charleston—he was such a successful politician. Bush is a natural, the kind of guy who can successfully kick off his stump speech with a lengthy anecdote about pig manure, and he seemed delighted to be back on the stump. Every other line seemed to elicit either laughs or applause. Mentioning his writing projects, he said, “They didn’t use to think I could read, much less write!” He quipped that the signature on his paintings was worth far more than the art.

That made him a particularly tough act for Jeb to follow. While the younger Bush—going without glasses—was reasonably energetic, his wonky technocrat act simply doesn’t provide the populist spark that his brother effortlessly delivers. Jeb offered a South Carolina-pitched variation on his stump speech, including plenty on national defense, strengthening the military, and overhauling the VA. It ended with the story of Denisha Merriweather, a familiar Jeb anecdote: inspirational, in its way, but complex and long, with none of the pith of George W.

Too many words have been spilled on the Freudian theater of the Bush family, and especially the tension between George, the son who was never supposed to be president, and Jeb, the son who was, but seeing them on-stage back to back provides clear enough evidence why George served two terms and Jeb is struggling to hang on in the Republican primary. George W., though, was doing his best for his little brother. The former president has been described as “bewildered” by the course of the primary so far, which has elevated Ted Cruz, a former aide whom Bush dislikes, and Donald Trump, the loudmouth businessman who represents practically Bush’s polar opposite (no compassion, fierce opposition to foreign intervention, antipathy to immigrants, a very different accent, and a successful business career). Bush tried to make his brother seem a compelling alternative.


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