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The Last Bush Tries To Survive In The Party Of Trump

Texas land commissioner George P. Bush attends a 2016 Veterans Day celebration. He's running for reelection with President Trump's endorsement, two years after his father's presidential bid failed amid withering insults from Trump.
LM Otero
Texas land commissioner George P. Bush attends a 2016 Veterans Day celebration. He's running for reelection with President Trump's endorsement, two years after his father's presidential bid failed amid withering insults from Trump.

In a dynasty that dates back over 60 years in American politics, there is just one member of the Bush family left in any state or federal elected office.

Texas land commissioner George P. Bush is the one carrying the torch and facing a stiff primary on March 6, barely two years after his father Jeb's presidential bid failed as Donald Trump took over the Republican Party. To survive, the younger Bush has decided to adapt to — rather than resist — the new direction of the GOP.

The Bush family political dynasty goes back to 1952. That's when Prescott Bush became a U.S. senator from Connecticut. Then his son George H. W. Bush became president. Jeb Bush would become governor of Florida. After six years as Texas governor, George W. Bush won the presidency, as well. Since he left office nearly a decade ago, there's been a lag.

In 2014, George P. Bush announced he was running for Texas land commissioner.

Almost as soon as Bush entered that race, he was projected to win. The entire campaign turned into more of a victory tour then political race.

"He was a young, vibrant, good looking guy. So he looked like a central casting, next generation Bush candidate, starting in Texas but with national possabilities," Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson said.

He breezed through the 2014 GOP primary, easily won the general election in a deep red state, and already had some Republican activists talking about future races for governor — or even president someday.

Then the realities of holding office began to sink in. There are questions about how well his office has handled Hurricane Harvey relief. He's also received bad press over his handling of the Alamo. You know, the one we're supposed to remember all the time. Those issues brought criticism from some in the party, and motivated Bush's predecessor, former land commissioner Jerry Patterson, to challenge him in the GOP primary. Patterson had left the office in 2014 in a failed attempt to run for lieutenant governor.

So facing a tough primary, George P. Bush has sought out the most coveted endorsement in Republican politics: President Trump.

This might be considered a hard endorsement for Bush to get. Trump was the man who labeled his father "low energy Jeb" and blamed his uncle for 9/11 during the 2016 GOP presidential primaries. Trump even made a disparaging statement about the fact that George P.'s mother was born in Mexico. His father, uncle and grandparents all said they didn't vote for Trump in the 2016 general election.

But George P. Bush endorsed Trump anyway.

"From Team Bush, it's a bitter pill to swallow," Bush told supporters during a speech in 2016. "But you know what? You get back up and you help the man that won, and you make sure that we stop Hillary Clinton."

And now that Bush needs help, President Trump is there to provide it. In a tweet from Feb. 27 Trump said, "Texas [land commissioner] George P. Bush backed me when it wasn't the politically correct thing to do, and I back him now."

While this may appear to be a friendly relationship, the truth is President Trump has rejected much of what the Bush family stood for in politics — whether it's onimmigration or foreign policy. Yet, George P. Bush is still trying to bridge that divide.

SMU's Jillson wonders whether George P. Bush can fully evolve in what's now Trump's party. "And now I think people have real questions about what the upside of George P. Bush as a politician and an office holder actually is," he said.

If Bush loses his GOP primary race on March 6, that could have pundits across the country talking about the end of the Bush political dynasty.

Still, it's a big family. Just because George P. was expected to lead the next generation doesn't mean one of his cousins won't.

Remember, the family always believed Jeb would be the second president from the Bush dynasty, while George W. lost an early congressional campaign and seemed to enjoy running a baseball team into his forties.

Copyright 2021 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Ben Philpott covers politics and policy for KUT 90.5 FM. He has been covering state politics and dozens of other topics for the station since 2002. He's been recognized for outstanding radio journalism by the Radio and Television News Directors Association, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated, the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters and twice by the Houston Press Club as Radio Journalist of the Year. Before moving to Texas, he worked in public radio in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Ala., and at several television stations in Alabama and Tennessee. Born in New York City and raised in Chattanooga, Tenn., Philpott graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in broadcast journalism.