By Alex Knepper
It only took him a year, but Jeb Bush has finally figured out that it’s not actually possible to make the public forget he’s a member of the Bush family. Someone in his life seems to have managed to convince him in 2014 that the public was clamoring for a presidential candidate who was patently embarrassed by his family name and history, and little seemed to change even after he won his first major applause line of the campaign — that moment when he stood up to Donald Trump to declare forcefully that his brother kept us safe. The desire to be one’s own man is, of course, admirable — but Bush was always going to stand or fall as a legacy candidate. That is: if he was going to win, he was going to win as a Bush.
Now, at the 11th hour, Jeb has finally invited George W. Bush to both cut a television advertisement for him — and, more still: to hit the campaign trail with him in South Carolina — the state in which W. himself rebounded from a stinging, embarrassing loss at the hands of John McCain.
With W. speaking for him, we can guarantee Jeb won’t need to ask anyone to clap. Here’s the thing: although his image has been slowly improving since leaving office — perhaps due to his wise decision to remain largely absent from public sight — George W. Bush isn’t at all popular among the general public. But he’s very popular among Republican primary voters, most of whom voted for the man twice, and consider him ‘one of them,’ especially insofar as he is despised by liberals and blamed by Obama for the mess he inherited. Millions of Republicans long for a vindication of George W. Bush, and for a way to find pride in his legacy.
Standing up for George W. Bush is, paradoxically enough, ‘anti-establishment’ in its own sense. Jeb has spent the entire campaign tacitly endorsing the conventional wisdom that his family background is anathema to victory. If that were truly the case — if his family background were truly toxic — then he was doomed from the start. He was never going to fool the public into believing he wasn’t ‘really’ a dynastic candidate. He should have made the gamble to make use of his family’s legacy sooner, but now it’s his one remaining card. In this strangest of elections, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that George W. Bush, of all people, can put Jeb back in the conversation. One just wonders now if might not be too late.