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10.25.09

A Bush Goes to War

The Bush family’s fourth-generation standard-bearer, Jeb's son George P., talks exclusively with The Daily Beast about his new deployment overseas—and plots his political future in Texas.

Even though we just trudged out of the last Bush era, everyone wants to know when George P. Bush, Jeb Bush’s eldest son and the family’s fourth-generation standard-bearer, is going to run for something. But P., as he’s known, has bigger things on his mind. He’s thinking about parachuting onto the frontlines of his uncle’s War on Terror.

Lt. Junior Grade Bush, 33, joined the Navy Reserve in 2007 as an intelligence officer. The Navy recently told him, like thousands of others, that the two ongoing wars required him to go active-duty overseas, potentially in Iraq or Afghanistan. “It’s been communicated to me that it’s not a question of ‘if,’ it’s a question of ‘when,’” Bush told The Daily Beast. “It’s just a matter of time.”

George P. Bush is co-founding Hispanic Republicans of Texas, a political action committee for which he will do the unglamorous work of recruiting candidates.

Bush’s Prince Harry moment is the latest and most unusual chapter in the life of the political scion. When he came on the political scene in 2000, as a TV-ready spokesman for his uncle’s presidential campaign, P. was named one of People magazine’s sexiest men and considered an amusing presence. Now, in addition to his military service, Bush is assembling an ambitious political program in Texas devoted to one of his family’s most cherished issues. With his uncle and dad in semi-retirement, P. has become the de facto keeper of what his grandfather once called the “legacy thing.”

The name George Bush still draws a crowd in Texas. When George P. and his wife Mandi moved to Austin last October, where his private-equity firm relocated, it was announced in the local papers. (Similarly, when he criticized Gov. Charlie Crist last month for excess spending, he made headlines in his native Florida.) Eric Opiela, the executive director of the Republican Party of Texas and Bush’s friend since law school, said that George P. had waited for George W.’s presidency to end before jumping into politics with both feet.

Bush’s primary mission in Texas is to mend fences with Hispanic voters. This is a Bush family obsession. Hispanics flocked to both of George W.’s presidential campaigns—by some estimates he won 44 percent of their vote in 2004. Then, just as dramatically, those voters switched to Barack Obama last year; McCain won only 31 percent of the Hispanic vote. “Personally, I think it’s disappointing,” George P. said ruefully.

“The immigration debate was very divisive,” Bush said, referring to the insurrection Republicans staged against his uncle in 2007. “I think it turned off not only a lot of first-generation Hispanics but second- and third-generation Hispanics, as well. In 2008, Barack Obama did a phenomenal job of reaching out to minority groups, to younger people, and a lot of newer voters, Hispanics being one component of that definition of newer voters.” George P., whose mother Columba is from Mexico, is charged with wooing those voters back.

The Bush strategy is two-fold. On camera, George P. is the Texas GOP’s smiling face on Telemundo and Univision, the hugely popular Spanish-language TV stations. Bush will come on TV to talk about anything—even inane stuff like Cinco de Mayo parades—in order to evangelize for the GOP. Behind the scenes, Bush is co-founding Hispanic Republicans of Texas, a political action committee for which he will do the unglamorous work of recruiting candidates.

It’s eerily reminiscent of George P.’s bridge-building during the 2000 presidential campaign, when he would reel off George W.’s accomplishments in Spanish and then declare, “His name is the same as mine!” “There’s definitely a personal connection, I won’t dismiss that,” Bush said in the interview. “There’s a definitely a sense of connection that my family feels toward the community. But also certainly an opportunity for the Republican Party when thinking about this in the longer term.”

Some Republicans are pining for George P. to take the legacy thing by the horns and run for office, never mind that his uncle’s popularity has fallen below 35 percent in Texas. “I think he could easily be elected to any statewide office, senator or governor, in the next four to eight years,” said Lionel Sosa, a Texas-based GOP consultant. Sosa recalled an episode from the 2000 Bush campaign in which George P., then in his mid-20s, met with the United Farm Workers in San Bernardino, California. Sosa said that dozens of farm workers, most of them Democrats, approached Bush and predicted he would be the first Latino president.

Others like Opiela, of the Texas GOP, are more circumspect. “That’s his decision,” he said. “He’d be a great candidate for office. And I think he will. Give it some time.”

But what’s clear is that P. has borrowed the constituent parts—mostly the admirable ones—from all the Bush family patriarchs. His Hispanic outreach recalls the campaigns of George W. and Jeb; his easygoing manner, his uncle; his military service, if it comes to fruition, his grandfather (and if it doesn’t, his uncle’s stint in the Texas Air National Guard). Echoing the calls of all three Bushes, George P. said politics would wait until he had succeeded on his own in private industry.

Meanwhile, P. said he was happy to find that all three men suddenly had time to devote to him. He meets with George W. Bush in the former president’s Dallas office perhaps four times a year to talk business. He spent the weekend of Oct. 17 and 18 in Florida watching college football with his parents. The week before that, Bush spent two nights in Houston with his grandfather, George H.W., in advance of the elder Bush’s meeting with Barack Obama. Bush 41, a decorated naval pilot in World War II, counseled his grandson to savor his moments with family before he has to ship out.

Was P. scared? “The intel guys are typically inside the wire,” he said. “It’s the guys who wage the real war who put themselves in real danger. I’m the guy that helps them find the battlespace and informs them with the latest and greatest information to help them defeat the enemy.”

“From the personal safety standpoint,” George P. added, “I’m probably the last guy that will be in harm’s way.”

Bryan Curtis is a senior editor at The Daily Beast. His story about his grandfather’s softball career is in The Best American Sports Writing of 2009.