Will big brother 'Dubya' boost little brother's bid?

Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush (right) with his brother, former president George W. Bush, in a 2006 photo.
Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush (right) with his brother, former president George W. Bush, in a 2006 photo.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ex-president George W. Bush could win over South Carolina conservatives, but undermine Jeb's hopes later

GREENVILLE (South Carolina) • With US presidential hopeful Jeb Bush struggling to connect with some Republican activists, his campaign has begun exploring whether to bring in the person it thinks may be best equipped to give him a boost with sceptical conservatives - his brother George W. Bush.

The 43rd president is a very popular figure among Republican voters and could deliver a needed jolt to his brother's sluggish campaign.

Advisers to Mr Jeb Bush in South Carolina, a crucial early primary state, have asked national campaign officials in recent weeks to send in Mr George W. Bush, 69, who so far has appeared only at private fund-raisers, to vouch for his younger brother on the campaign trail. The request for reinforcement underlines the growing urgency felt by backers of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, as other candidates vault ahead of him.

But while dispatching Mr George "Dubya" Bush to a state like South Carolina could shore up his brother Jeb's standing with conservatives, and remind voters of a family they still admire, it could also underscore the impression that Mr Jeb Bush is simply a legacy candidate just when voters want change.

What is more, given the former president's unpopularity among many in the broader electorate, joint appearances by the brothers could provide irresistible footage for Democratic attacks against Mr Jeb Bush if he wins the Republican nomination. The continued instability in the Middle East, in particular, could remind voters of Mr George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq, and make joint images of the Bush brothers potent fodder for the opposition.

 

RELATIVE VALUE

It may ruin the race for him down the line, but it could win the race here.

MR KATON DAWSON, a former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party

"It may ruin the race for him down the line, but it could win the race here," said Mr Katon Dawson, a former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party.

Still, in this heavily conservative state, which delivered crucial primary wins both to Mr George W. Bush and to his father George H.W. Bush, there is a growing view that Mr Jeb Bush needs to embrace his older brother.

"I do think he's an asset, and we need him down here - and Barbara, too," said Ms Sally Atwater, a Republican activist, referring to the brothers' mother.

Mr Tim Miller, Mr Jeb Bush's communications director, suggested that the campaign was open to having Mr George W. Bush appear at rallies for his brother before the state's primary in February.

FAMILY VALUE

I do think he's an asset, and we need him down here - and Barbara, too.

MS SALLY ATWATER, an activist, on Mr George W. Bush and the brothers' mother

As for the danger of the former president undermining his brother's prospects, supporters of Mr Jeb Bush believe the Democrats will try to link the two regardless of whether his elder brother engages more.

Even before he announced his candidacy, Mr Jeb Bush wrestled with how much, or how little, to tie himself to his family. He has gone to great lengths to emphasise his own life story and becomes testy when asked about how he differs from his brother. But he has relied on his family's fund-raising network to outpace the rest of the Republican field.

There has been no recent public polling here measuring Mr George W. Bush's standing, but Republicans who have seen private survey data indicate that he is broadly popular among potential South Carolina primary voters. And a CBS-New York Times survey found that, nationally, 71 per cent of Republicans had a favourable view of the former president and only 10 per cent said they viewed him unfavourably.

Mr Jeb Bush has acknowledged his predicament. In New Hampshire last month, he suggested that despite his years in government, he was known widely only because of his last name.

"Around the country they know me as George's boy and George's brother, right?" he said.

Some of his allies are keenly aware of the delicate balance. Mr Al Cardenas, a long-time Florida Republican Party leader, said it was "never a 'win' situation" when Mr Jeb Bush was asked about his family.

"Every time you have to face questions about your family's performance, in some way it interrupts the journey of making sure that your own identity has clarity," he said.

Mr Jeb Bush has offered mild criticism of his brother's administration at times. But it is not a role he seems to relish, as was demonstrated recently when he struggled to answer questions about whether he would have invaded Iraq.

His quandary is reminiscent of the one his brother faced in the 2000 Republican presidential primary. Mr George W. Bush wanted to prove that he was his own man and, to conservatives, not a replica of his father, who increased taxes and faced a primary challenge from the right in his 1992 re-election bid. But then, as now, there was also considerable goodwill in Republican ranks toward the Bushes.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2015, with the headline 'Will big brother 'Dubya' boost little brother's bid?'. Print Edition | Subscribe