SIXTEEN years ago, South Carolina saved George W. Bush’s presidential aspiration, and on Monday, he made a triumphant return to the political stage here, hoping to convince Republicans to work the same magic for his brother, Jeb.
In his first political rally since leaving office in 2009 and his first public appearance on behalf of Jeb Bush’s bid for the GOP nomination, George W. Bush pointedly acknowledged the “anger and frustration” that has pushed Republican voters toward frontrunner Donald Trump. But he argued the country needs a president like his brother who can be a “steady” and calm hand in the White House in order to fix the country’s problems – not someone who offers empty “bluster.”
“I understand Americans are angry and frustrated, but we do not need someone in the Oval Office who mirrors and inflames our frustration,” George W. Bush told a crowd of at least 1,000 people at a convention center. “We need someone who can fix the problems that cause our anger and frustration … and that’s Jeb Bush.”
The former president did not mention Trump – or any of his brother’s rivals, Republican or Democrat – by name. But in a 20-minute speech, the elder Bush repeatedly alluded to the business mogul and former reality star whose insurgent candidacy has thrown the GOP race into turmoil, urging voters to choose a candidate who offers more than slogans and who can appeal across party lines in order to win the general election in November.
“All of the sloganeering and all of the talk doesn’t matter if we don’t win,” George W. Bush said.
The former president’s appearance came just days before Saturday’s pivotal South Carolina GOP primary, which could be make or break for Jeb Bush’s struggling presidential bid. After losses in Iowa and New Hampshire, the former Florida governor trails badly in the polls here – well behind Trump, who has a 20-point lead over his closest rival, Texas Senator, Ted Cruz. According to many polls, Bush is running in fifth place, behind Ohio Governor John Kasich and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
But Bush’s aides hoped to spark a comeback for their boss by bringing in the former president, who remains incredibly popular here seven years after leaving office – particularly with veterans and members of the military, who make up a significant part of the state’s Republican electorate.
It’s a change in strategy for Jeb Bush, who has not always embraced his family’s legacy on the campaign trail. Since declaring his bid for the GOP nomination, the former Florida governor has struggled to deal with his brother’s complicated political legacy, including his handling of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.