It wasn’t so long ago that Jeb Bush did rhetorical gymnastics to distance himself from his brother George.
Even when a presidential campaign was no more than a twinkle in his eye, Jeb took steps to indicate that he didn’t want to run as George 2.0 (well, 3.0 if you count H.W.), and that he was his own damn man. However, behind the scenes, Jeb cashed in on family connections from Day One and when polls got bleak and belts got tight, he called in the George W. cavalry.
This weekend, though, marked the conclusion of a full 180 as far as how Jeb Bush talks about his famous brother.
At the beginning Jeb nurtured the narrative that he isn’t his brother.
Two months after posting on Facebook that he was actively considering a presidential bid, the former governor tested out his messaging on his brother and dad in a Chicago speech.
“I love my father and my brother. I admire their service to the nation and the difficult decisions they had to make,” he said. “But I am my own man.”
As the months passed and his bid moved from theoretical to inevitable, he repeated the “I am not my last name” mantra. In May at a non-campaign campaign stop in New Hampshire, he answered a question about the existence of “space” between himself and George by criticizing his brother’s record on government spending.
Days before announcing his campaign, he was even more emphatic about not being his brother in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash.
“Jeb is different than George,” he said with a chuckle. “Jeb is who he is. My life story’s different.”
When he announced his bid later that week, George W. was conspicuously absent. Over the ensuing months, he kept taking little digs at his brother’s record, implicitly criticizing his judicial nominees and needling him on the September 8 debut of Stephen Colbert’s late-night show.
Then came the pesky, but painfully predictable, Iraq question. The candidate had an unpredictably hard time answering what should have been the most predictable question of the cycle: whether he thought the Iraq invasion was a good idea. It was a major tip-off that the Floridian wasn’t as formidable as his allies suggested.
Meanwhile, the governor’s standing in the polls has ebbed and flowed; his standing in the RealClearPolitics polling average looks a lot like an actual roller coaster—clocking in at 10.8 percent of the vote on June 16, the day Trump announced; peaking at 17.8 percent about a month later; then slipping to 8 percent now.
Though the before-and-after of his polling numbers—comparing his standing today to his standing in the time B.T., or Before Trump—isn’t actually that different, the terrorism-preparation-advice-giver still seems to have gotten under his skin.
And when naysayers started to naysay after a series of awkward comments distinguished Bush from the primary pack for all the wrong reasons, his brother materialized. In early October, news broke that W. would appear at a fundraiser for his brother at a private home in Washington. The event is billed as “An Evening Reception with President George W. Bush” and will take place on October 29. It’s part of a broader swing by Jeb toward incorporating his brother more and more into the campaign. W. has also been tapped to host a donor retreat in Houston.
But it’s not all behind the scenes. Jeb’s team increasingly seems to see W. as a feature, not a bug. After the second presidential debate, his team flagged video of Jeb defending his brother’s foreign policy record from Trump’s criticism by saying the former president “kept us safe.”
But that was too tempting for Trump, who blamed George W. Bush for the 9/11 attacks over the weekend, tweeting that Jeb’s defense of his brother meant he was “fighting to defend a catastrophic event.”
Parse that as you will.
And now, the embrace is complete. On October 18, he sent out a fundraising email with the subject line “Help defend my brother.”
“If you believe as I do that my brother kept this country safe and strong after those horrific attacks, then I need you to donate $5 and fight back against Donald Trump,” the email read.
This is only the latest example of Jeb capitalizing on the W. gravy train; W.’s fundraising network has always propelled Jeb’s White House dreams. CBS reported in August that more than half of the $120 million he accrued in his war chest before announcing his bid came from donors who had previously backed his father and/or brother. W. influence is all over his foreign policy team which reads like a who’s who of the W. White House.
And that fundraiser that will draw W. back to D.C.? It’s hosted by a bevy of old W. hands, including Brad Belt, who helmed the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp under Elaine Chao; former White House chiefs of staff Josh Bolten and Andy Card; and Jack Oliver, national finance director for W.’s first presidential campaign.
Breitbart News—which has been consistently and voraciously critical of Jeb—dinged the candidate for the fact that many of his bundlers are alums of W.’s administration. Those include Ignacio Sanchez, who helmed policy advisory committee’s for Bush’s Treasury Department and office of the U.S. Trade Representative; Reg Brown, who was associate White House counsel from 2003 to 2005; Francis Hoang, also associate White House counsel; and Federal Housing Administration Commissioner Brian Montgomery.
So on the popular-sentiment front, W. might be a liability. But when it comes to cash and knowhow, Team Jeb clearly sees an unmitigated upside.