In life, there are lots and lots of advantages of having a dad and a brother who have been president. That goes double if you happen to also be running for president. Money. Endorsements. Name ID. And a million other intangibles.
But, being Jeb Bush — emphasis on the B-U-S-H part — isn’t all easy street. Witness the last 24 hours.
Jeb’s dad, aka the 41st president of the United States, is cooperating on a biography of his life in which he has some harsh words for former vice president Dick Cheney (“iron ass”) and former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld (“arrogant”).
The New York Times report on the book, which is being written by Jon Meacham, launched a thousand and one competing statements from the various players involved about what it all meant (if anything). George W. Bush, Jeb’s brother and the 43rd president of the United States, went the conciliatory route: “I am proud to have served with Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld,” he said in a statement. Cheney sought to sidestep the whole controversy, saying he took the description of him offered by the elder Bush as a compliment. Rumsfeld was, um, less conciliatory. “Bush 41 is getting up in years and misjudges Bush 43, who I found made his own decisions,” said Rumsfeld in a statement to NBC News. “There are hundreds of memos on www.rumsfeld.com that represent advice [the Department of Defense] gave the president.” Oomph.
No one asked Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz or Ben Carson or Donald Trump about this contretemps. But, everybody asked Jeb Bush.
And, in a sitdown with NBC’s Kasie Hunt, Jeb answered — albeit it in the sort of strange way he seems to always adopt when talking about his family. “My brother is a big boy, his administration was shaped by his thinking, his reaction to the attack on 9/11,” Bush told Hunt. “I think my dad, like a lot of people that love George [W. Bush], want to try to create a different narrative, perhaps, just because that’s natural to do.”
So, Jeb, you are saying your dad is trying to rewrite history to make your brother look better? Ok, got it.
But that’s almost beside the point. The issue here is that as much as Jeb is trying to run for president as his own man, episodes like the one between his dad, his brother, Cheney and Rumsfeld make clear just how hard that is. Because his last name is “Bush,” Jeb will forever get dragged into any debate about his dad’s or his brother’s time in office and be asked to offer some sort of comment — despite the fact that, at least during his brother’s two terms, Jeb was busy being the governor of Florida. (You can bet that when Meacham’s book comes out — it’s set to be released Nov. 10 — there will be loads more passages in it that create loads more questions that Jeb will have to answer.)
Jeb doesn’t help his cause in all of this either. He seemed stunned in the spring when he provoked a furor by offering a series of different answers about whether, knowing what we know now, we should have gone into Iraq as his brother did in 2002. He consistently appears uncomfortable when talking about his family — asserting in one breath that he is his own man while in the next making sure that everyone knows he won’t be disloyal to his family.
In short: Being a Bush has proven to be much less advantageous to Jeb so far in this race than I (and, I am guessing, he) thought. Now, Bush’s last name is also what installed him as the front-runner in the race from the second he got in and helped him raise more than $100 million for his campaign and super PAC. And, that money may, ultimately, be the thing that saves Jeb’s campaign.
But, at the moment, having to engage in a he said, he said about the last two Republican administrations is the net output of Jeb being a Bush. Not so fun.