George P. Bush struggles to overcome last name in race for Texas attorney general

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In 2000, George P. Bush – then 24 years old and about to enter law school at the University of Texas – recorded a commercial in Spanish for his uncle’s presidential campaign. He looked set to be the next standard bearer for his storied family, updated for the 21st century: bilingual, telegenic, son of a governor and an immigrant from Mexico. Campaign ad designer Mark McKinnon took to calling him ’47’, in anticipation that ‘P’, as he is known to friends and family, would soon be joining his grandfather (George HW Bush, 41) and uncle (George W. Bush, 43) in the American presidential pantheon.

But now, as Bush winds up a runoff for Texas attorney general, his place in that political dynasty has been a stumbling block in a party now swayed by another famous family name.

“It’s tough running in Texas as Bush. I think that’s the end of the line,” said University of Houston politics professor Richard Murray. “Bush is a four-letter word right now in far-right Texas politics.”

The question for Republican primary voters in Texas today is whether Bush’s name proves to be a bigger issue than even the whirlwind of legal troubles stalking incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton – an indictment of seven-year-old securities fraud, a separate investigation into FBI corruption, and a bar review into its efforts to nullify the 2020 election. Paxton has denied wrongdoing in all of those cases.

The Bush campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The outcome may be closer than expected, according to Dave Carney, a Republican strategist who advised George HW Bush and Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Carney noted that nearly 23% of runoff voters did not vote in the primary, and it was unclear who they would support.

Texas has been the adopted home of the Bush family since 1948, when George HW Bush, a Connecticut blue blood, son of a senator, combat pilot and Yale graduate, moved with his wife and young son to the oil fields of Midland. For eight years when George W. Bush was in the White House, his Crawford ranch served as a presidential getaway. And the state is home to two presidential libraries, an international airport, schools, roads and parks all bearing the same legendary name.

George P. Bush ran with 100% name recognition, but the name was among its greatest weakness, according to state political observers. Forty percent of Republican primary voters in Texas said they would never vote for Bush, with two-thirds saying the reason was his name, according to a March poll by the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation. (The second most prominent complaint involved Bush’s handling of the Alamo Historic Site as Texas Land Commissioner, though most voters aren’t sure exactly what he did wrong, according to Mark P. Jones. , a Rice University politics professor who conducted the survey.)

The Bush surname finding echoes an alarming discovery early in Bush’s father Jeb’s 2016 presidential campaign. When internal campaign pollsters asked voters what they didn’t like about the candidate, about 40% gave an answer that amounted to his name being Bush, according to Tim Miller, who worked as campaign spokesperson.

Trump capitalized on the Republican base’s disaffection with the Bush family, going so far as to blame George W. Bush for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks during a primary debate in 2016.

“The Bush brand is not what grassroots Republican voters are looking for right now,” Miller said. “It’s not like [George P. Bush] was a third cousin of Bush, or the rebel of the family. It was largely the natural successor to the original Bush brand, and no matter how hard it tried to change, people could feel it wasn’t the authentic MAGA,” he said, referring Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement.

Bush tried to overcome his family heritage by repositioning himself as an America First candidate. His campaign rolled out red beer koozies with a rendering of Trump shaking hands with Bush and saying, “It’s the Bush who got it right.” He ran to the right on immigration, from supporting in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children to promising to finish building Trump’s border wall. He called for declaring an “invasion” on the border. He appeared on Real America’s Voice, the right-wing video network home to former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon, to support adding more prosecutors to prosecute voter fraud.

Bush also ended the campaign by hitting Paxton harder for his ethics scandals. Paxton’s ads throughout the campaign attacked Bush as a “liberal”.

“Campaigns still matter, we’ll see who ran a better campaign,” Carney said.

Bush’s actions in the face of Trumpism made longtime friends of his and his family’s cringe.

“I was disappointed in him and said this to his face,” said Jason Villalba, a former state senator who quit the GOP in 2016 and now heads the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation. “But I also know politics. He plays a role that he must play to win. I understand. Trumpism is what it means to be a Republican today.

But others say Bush genuinely holds opinions to the right of his famous family members. His father, Jeb Bush, as governor of Florida, was considered more of a conservative darling than his brother George W. Bush was as governor of Texas. And George P. Bush’s coming of age coincided with the rise of a Republican base that valued all-out partisan warfare. In 2012, the young Bush shook up the Texas GOP establishment by endorsing long-term conservative firebrand Ted Cruz for the Senate, then calling him the future of the party.

“I’m not at all surprised that George P. is more conservative and more receptive to changes in the Republican Party over the past 15 to 20 years,” said Daron Shaw, who worked on the 2000 presidential campaigns. and 2004. and is now a professor of politics at the University of Texas at Austin. “He’s a new generation and he’s been more sensitive to some of these issues. I think he’s more like that than Jeb and W.

Many observers, however, say Bush has struggled to convince Texas primary voters that his genes are not his destiny. They’ve been let down by Bushes before, said Luke Macias, a Texas-based Republican consultant and podcast host who works with a Paxton-backing PAC.

“George W. Bush spent his entire political career telling conservatives and evangelicals, ‘I’m one of you,’ then often governing in the middle and campaigning on the right,” Macias said. “There’s a bit of ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me’ to Texas voters who feel like they’ve been fooled by Bush repeatedly,” he said. he added, citing a proverb the former president notoriously missed.

There was no room to campaign on the right of Paxton, who asked the Supreme Court to overturn the 2020 election, spoke at the January 6, 2021 rally that turned into an attack against the Capitol and attacked gender-affirming health care. for transgender children. Paxton locked in Trump’s endorsement, despite details about the beer koozies.

“The idea that the Bushes are insufficiently conservative is very difficult to understand. 1994 me watching George W. Bush beat Ann Richards easily wouldn’t believe 2022 telling me 1994 telling me this guy will someday in the future be considered a RINO,” Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith said, using a term that stands for “Republican in name only”. “Bush’s brand of conservatism does not count in the modern world. The world has changed.

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