At the core of the Bush challenge is the brand name and all it signifies. “I do think the bar’s higher for me, but that’s good,” he said in an interview in his black campaign Escalade on his way to the airport after his three-day Iowa swing. “I don’t see it as a burden. I see it as an opportunity.”
But the rise of the insurgent right has forced Bush to depend even more on his name. Fundraising for the latest Bush campaign has always been a family business, but neve: like this. Former President George \V. Bush has participated in at least four fundraisers, including one very quietly just outside the nation’s capital a few weeks ago. His parents, in their 90s, have each participated in two, and his brother Marvin Bush and sister Dorothy Bush Koch in one each. Later this month the two former Presidents Bush will i: in the hopeful at a summit for high-d: lit: d: nors in Houston dubbed the “Jeb Celebration.” Then there is his rising-star eldest son George P. Bush, the Texas land commissioner, who has crisscrossed the country fundraising and attending campaign events while younger sc n Teb Jr. has focused on youth outreach.
This summer. Jeb reports, Barbara Bush strolled the beaches of Kenne- bunkport, Maine, .••ith her dogs and a pair of “Jeb! 2016′ tamper stickers on her three-wheeled red walker, handing out others to passersby on one condition: “Don’t put it in a scrapbook—put it on the car.” “This is typical of my mom,” Jeb notes as the car ride continues, before quoting the family matriarch: “Ifyou have two cars and you want to put them on, I’ll give you two.”
Ask about his struggling poll numbers (Jeb has fallen from double to single digits in most surveys since getting into the race) and Bush points to his father’s experience. “At this point, my dad was an asterisk in 1979.” he noted, plugging his time campaigning for his father in Iowa that year. Left unmentioned was the fact that a more conservative and charismatic candidate, Ronald Reagan, beat the elder Bush to the nomination in 1980.
ON AN EARLY OCTOBER AFTERNOON,
Dorene Oliver was sitting just in front of a bank of television cameras at the Pizza Ranch in Indianola, Iowa, when Bush was
With the pie-in-the-skygoal of sQstained
4% annual economic growth, Bush
has put forward a series of mostly
conventional Republican policy ideas.
Repeal Obamacare and replace it with
tax breaks for individuals to purchase
catastrophic insurance coverage and
block grants to help states serve low-
income people. He would also limit
the amount of tax-free benefits for
Push comprehensive reform that gives
a path to citizenship for undocumented
immigrants who were brought to the
country as children but not everyone
else. “What do we do with the 11 million
people here? I think the answer is
earned legal status,” he says.
Eliminate many deductions and cut
income tax rates, which could reduce
tax revenue by as much as $3.4 trillion
over 10 years.
Approve the Keystone XL pipeline, push
to allow exports of U.S. crude and
natural gas, repeal EPA regulations of
greenhouse gases and reduce other
asked by a voter to name his biggest mistake as a leader. Muttering within earshot, Oliver, a 56-year-old Ben Carson supporter, quipped, “Not changing your last name.”
Jeb heard the jab and searched the room for the culprit. “Who said that? That’s not a mistake,” Bush responded matter-of-factly. “I’m proud of my family.”
But there is still time for a Bush rebound. He’s built the largest ground operation in New Hampshire and is looking to his formidable super PAC to help reintroduce him to voters over the airwaves. During the Iowa trip, his super PAC released a new ad, featuring Bush’s disruption message, part of a months-long $50 million campaign to define his record as a government reformer. “He has the record of shaking things up and actually accomplishing something, which is what a lot of the appeal of outsiders is,” said a Right to Rise adviser. The echoes of the slogan that made George W. Bush the nominee in 2000—“Reformer With Results”—are easy to hear.
The elder brother’s counsel may prove to be another advantage as the real primaries begin. “My brother gives me good advice,” Bush says of the former President, who he notes is the only Republican to win nationally since their father in 1988. “I need to ask him more, to be honest with you. Because he’s got a great, very astute sense.”
in indianola, Jeb proceeds to talk up his Florida record, cutting the size of government, raising the state’s growth rate— the sort of things that matter most to Republican voters this year. The Carson supporter who came in mocking Bush’s name eventually came around. “I thought we were going to listen to another George W. Bush, but I was very, very wrong,” Oliver explained afterward. “I’ve changed my mind.”
Yet there is a grim counternarrative spreading in the Bush supporter and donor orbit: that maybe Jeb is the wrong candidate, with a temperament, last name and ideological disposition ill suited to the moment. Perhaps he missed his chance in 2012, they muse privately, or maybe, as Barbara Bush said in 2013 (but later recanted), “We’ve had enough Bushes.”
The Bush strategy is a wager that voters will set aside their anger and the appeal of the “grievance candidates” who’ve never held government office and look in the end for a more electable Establishment favorite. That is usually how it goes with Republicans. But the anger that has marked the race so far seems to be broadening if not deepening, and that’s lengthening the odds on Jeb. If it doesn’t subside and if he can’t rebrand himself to capture the frustrations by the time Republicans go to the polls in February, then even many of his staunchest backers concede it may be a lost cause.
In the meantime Jeb Bush gets up every morning to try again, preaching joy while grimly focused on the narrow task before him. “It’s been my responsibility from the very beginning to methodically go about telling my life story,” he says. “I don’t know what everybody else does in the campaign, but that’s what I do.” There’s little else he can control, he says. It is what it is.