Jeb Bush will be campaigning with his brother George W. Bush on Monday, joining him for a rally in North Charleston, South Carolina, and he’s excited. Not because he’s campaigning with his brother, but because of who his brother is.
There’s another way of saying this: George W. Bush joins Jeb tonight in South Carolina and Jeb hopes Trump attacks him. In fact, you might say he is counting on Trump attacking him. I’ll explain in a minute. Let’s look first at what Jeb told Dana Bash on Sunday’s State of the Union:
“The point is, Is he a popular republican? You bet he is. And he will make the point, I think I hope tomorrow, that he knows what it takes to be president of the United States to be commander in chief to keep the country safe and that he believes that I have those skills based on my record and based on how he knows me, and that will be validator in SC where values matter and where national defense matters a lot. So I’m looking forward to the event we should have a great crowd and it’ll help my campaign a lot.”
It might shock liberals and progressives to think of the forty-third president having any cachet at all, but Dubya’s popularity with South Carolinians stands at 84 percent.
That’s appalling enough. Worse, we have apparently gotten to the point where just saying George W. Bush “kept the country safe” makes it true for Republicans, despite the fact that the opposite is true (9/11 anyone?), as Trump pointed out at the debate Saturday night.
You know things are bad when you’re depending upon the support of one of the worst presidents in American history to lend you the air of legitimacy you need to get you elected. It’s even worse when it’s likely to help – at least in South Carolina.
That is the deplorable fact-free state of the Republican Party today. Trump got booed for exposing the difference between politically correct and factually correct; Jeb! is likely right that his campaign will get a boost from lying about his brother’s record, and having his conservative icon of a brother there to nod his head and hopefully not say anything too stupid.
What to expect? According to Karl Rove, “Having been in the Oval Office, you can expect him to be a statesman and focus on extolling the virtues of his brother and sharing observations about what he thinks the requirements are for the next president.” In other words, he will not be Jeb’s attack dog.
This is a strange strategy. Jeb has so far been unable to find a single chink in Trump’s armor. Jeb Bush needs “more teeth,” to steal a Jurassic World allusion, but he’s not going to get more teeth from his brother, who at the best of times barely seems to understand what is going on around him.
Is there any danger to Dubya? Rove doesn’t think so: “If any candidate decides they’re going to score points by going after 43, it’s going to be a problem for them — a mistake in judgment.”
This could be more Republican math, i.e. wishful thinking. We could ask Rove, as Megyn Kelly did back in 2012, “Is this just math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better?”
Rove’s are a funny choice of words, given 43’s entire presidency was a gigantic error in judgment. Irony abounds in 2016, and there is always a chance bringing his brother in might prove to be an error in judgment for Jeb. It might address his immediate needs in South Carolina while having negative effects elsewhere.
While former secretary of commerce Donald L. Evans and current board chairman of the George W. Bush Foundation might say, “Jeb doesn’t need big brother coming in to take on some other candidate,” that’s exactly what Jeb seems to feel he does need.
In fact, you get the idea that he thinks he is donning some form of holy armor against Donald Trump, telling Brian Kilmeade on his radio show Friday that,
“Donald Trump and anybody else who wants to be critical of George W. Bush, I hope they do it, because the people of South Carolina are sick and tired of people tearing down George W. Bush.”
So this is the plan: Jeb Bush looks to his brother to be a lightning rod, turning any Trump attack into a backlash of negativity against the virtual reality star. George W. Bush is Jeb’s honeypot, an irresistible, easy target for The Donald. Let Trump attack him, and Jeb will sit back and enjoy the results. He hopes.
A fascinating strategy and a telling admission of weakness on Jeb’s part, to show himself so dependent on the magical aura of his brother. On the other hand, the lackadaisical Jeb doesn’t seem to have anything to lose.