The Bush dynasty, its fading influence, pin hopes on one last stand in Texas

ARGYLE, Texas — His famous name overshadows George P. Bush, the only member of the dynastic political clan currently in office, as he en...


ARGYLE, Texas — His famous name overshadows George P. Bush, the only member of the dynastic political clan currently in office, as he enters the final days of a difficult campaign to overthrow the Texas attorney general .

For some Texans, the Bush surname is a badge of integrity, a reminder of a bygone era of rectitude and respectful political debate. For others, it’s the disqualifying mark of an old Republican guard that failed the party and betrayed its last president, Donald J. Trump.

Mr. Bush would like to campaign around two-term Republican incumbent Ken Paxton, whose serious legal problems — including a securities fraud indictment and an ongoing federal corruption probe — prompted high-profile Republicans to induct him into the primary. Mr. Bush went to a second round with Mr. Paxton which takes place on Tuesday.

A few years ago, Mr. Bush, whose mother is from Mexico and whose father was governor of Florida, might have won the race hands down, his aides think, and then was held up as a shining example of a new, more diverse generation of Republicans.

But that was before the ground changed and his family came out publicly against Mr Trump, in a failed effort to derail his bid for the presidency.

Mr. Bush broke with his father (Jeb), his uncle (George W.) and his grandfather (George HW) and aligned himself with Mr. Trump and his supporters. The effort to get away from loved ones was captured in a country beer koozie that his campaign handed out last year, quoting Mr. Trump: “It was the Bush who got it right. I like it,” he says, below a line drawing of Mr. Trump shaking hands with Mr. Bush.

The effort did not pay off. Mr. Trump endorsed Mr. Paxton, who had sued to overturn the 2020 election and appeared with Mr. Trump at his rally in Washington on January 6, 2021, before members of the crowd stormed Capitol.

Some Texans say the political obituary has already been written for the Bush family, and see Mr. Bush, who is currently the state lands commissioner, as its last flickering ember, with little of the appeal of his ancestry.

“Dad Bush was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful,” Carolyn Lightfoot, a member of the Daughters of the Texas Republic, said of Mr. Bush’s grandfather. But the organization criticized George P. Bush’s moves as lands commissioner on his management of the Alamo in San Antonio. Ms Lightfoot said the Bush family and the party establishment were “trying to ram him down our throats because of his Latino heritage”.

For all that the importance of family may have faded among Texas Republicans, Mr. Bush may still emerge victorious in the runoff. A survey this month had Mr. Paxton’s support at less than 50%, and Mr. Bush trailed him by only a few percentage points. Donors have poured new funds into Mr. Bush’s campaign on the home stretch, hoping to push him to the top.

Mr. Bush has tried to refine and target his attacks on Mr. Paxton in recent weeks, after internal polls from his campaign suggested earlier efforts were damaging his own reputation as well as that of Mr. Paxton. And Mr. Bush proudly invoked his family, both in a closure political announcement and while addressing audiences who might not be impressed by Bush’s name.

“It’s a matter of ethics,” Bush told a rally of Republican women this month in Argyle, a fast-growing and largely Republican suburb of Fort Worth. “When people say the last thing we need is another Bush, my response is that this is precisely when we need a Bush.”

As he takes the state by storm, Mr. Bush, 46, is invariably asked about loved ones, fond memories of them, or challenged to reiterate his loyalty to Mr. Trump.

After the event in Argyle, a man wearing a cowboy hat waited outside for Mr. Bush to come out so he could confront the candidate.

“Would you support the Republican nominee for president, even if it’s Trump in 2024?” asked the man.

“Yeah, no, I would back him again,” Bush replied as he walked to his car, wearing black cowboy boots emblazoned with a White House seal and a reference to his uncle’s ranch in Crawford, Texas. “But we’ll see who comes out.”

At a Republican Club event in Houston, held across the road from an apartment George W. Bush used to occupy in an area George H. W. Bush used to represent in Congress, George P. Bush gave a speech attacking Democrats and Mr. Paxton. He promised to bolster the state’s border with Mexico and tackle Houston’s rising murder rate. He opened the floor to questions, but got a comment to start.

“I liked watching you talk, because to me, you have all the manners of Governor Bush,” a man told her, bursting into laughter in the room. “Your hands are like ‘Saturday Night Live’.”

Another participant also made reference to his family. “I’ve heard people say they won’t vote for you because they’ve had enough of the Bush dynasty,” club member Doug Smith said, echoing the opinions of some in the room. “How do you respond to these people?”

“I will never run away from being a Bush; I love my family,” he said. Most of the audience cheered.

To live in Texas is to be exposed to the ubiquity of the Bushes, whose family name is carried by airports, roads and schools from Houston to Dallas to Midland. Both Presidents Bush have their presidential libraries in the state. In Houston, there are even dog parks named after the canine companions of George P. Bush’s grandmother, Barbara Bush, died in 2018.

Exposed to the national spotlight from an early age, Mr. Bush has been hearing about his bright political future for decades. “The Republican convention doubles as a dress rehearsal for a man Republicans talk about as a promising heir to the Bush legacy,” The Baltimore Sun wrote about him in 2000referring to him as a “hunk” who could put “passion into compassionate conservatism”.

But that’s not the message Republicans want to hear now, political consultants, donors and Texas watchers said.

“Everyone was lining up to give him the brass ring, but the party has changed too much,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “The Republican base changed so quickly that many were left without a chair when the music stopped. Bush is a prime example.

Jay Zeidman, a longtime friend of Mr. Bush, said he thought the changes masked dissatisfaction with the direction the party had taken. “There is a lack of political courage in this state right now because of Donald Trump,” he said. “I think Americans and Texans are hungry for a return to what politics used to be.”

As he campaigns, Bush, who grew up in Florida, points to his Texas ties: Born in Houston, college at Rice University, a career in law in the state. In an interview, Mr. Bush said he understood his family’s heritage as something Texan, as well as “quintessentially American and patriotic.”

“My role is to heal the wounds of the past,” Bush said. “I focus on the areas I can control, not the areas I can’t control. Because that would be futile.

Mr. Bush has laid out hard-line positions that appeal to Republican primary voters on issues such as teaching about race and gender in schools. On immigration, he urged Texas to formally invoke passages of the US Constitution referring to “invasion”, a step towards the state seizing the powers of war and a decision that Mr. Paxton and Governor Greg Abbott have so far avoided making. He said there was “fraud and irregularityin the 2020 election, although he doesn’t think it changed the outcome.

He challenged Mr Paxton to debate him on issues, but the two did not share a stage during the campaign. Mr. Bush contrasts his willingness to answer questions from reporters and various audiences with Mr. Paxton’s practice of rarely holding press conferences or answering tough questions.

Mr Paxton’s campaign declined a request for an interview.

“Texas voters have made it clear that they are fed up with the Bush family dynasty and their RINO establishment donors playing the role of kingmaker in Texas politics,” said Kimi Hubbard, gatekeeper. -Paxton’s campaign speech, using an acronym meaning “Republican in name only”.

In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Bush was careful not to question changes within the Republican Party that have made his candidacy more difficult. He said the concerns of party voters were largely the same as when he first ran for lands commissioner in the 2014 election: “Concerns about my family, concerns about crime , border security.

Did voters’ feelings about the Bush dynasty hurt him? “I wouldn’t say that,” he said. “I won.”

Significant number of Republicans polled in Texas say they would not support Bush because of his family background. But his lineage is not just a handicap.

In this month’s poll by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler, people planning to vote in the attorney general’s runoff were asked what they liked about the chosen candidate. One of the main factors mentioned by Mr. Paxton’s supporters was that he was not a Bush. But about the same share of Mr. Bush supporters said they were attracted to him specifically because he was a Bush.

Mr. Bush secured financial support from his family’s network, including six-figure checks from some longtime Bush supporters and more than $100,000 directly from his uncle George W. Bush, according to fundraising records from the countryside.

A week before the second round, outside an early voting location in his grandfather’s former congressional district in Houston, Mr. Bush’s last name loomed large for Republican voters, both for and against.

“We support George P.,” said Julie Treadwell, 50, who had just voted with her 18-year-old daughter. “We want to get back to that,” she said of her family and what they meant to her: “More balanced, level-headed conservative Republicans.”

Darla Ryden, 59, who heard Ms Treadwell’s remarks, waited until she was away from her car before describing her own opinions, which she said were quite the opposite.

“I was everything to George Bush, dad and son, but now I feel like with the Bushes it’s more about power than people,” Ms Ryden said. She voted for Mr Paxton in the second round and also backed him in the first round of the primary, she said, despite “her own struggles”.

“The bushes?” she added. “It is done.”



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