Former President George W. Bush on Monday expressed confidence in his younger brother’s drive to win his White House bid despite sinking poll numbers and a retooled strategy that has the campaign reallocating resources and slashing budgets.
“It’s one reason Jeb is going to win because he’s a fierce competitor,” the former president told a crowd of his brother’s donors and supporters gathered at a closed-door meeting in Houston, Texas.
The elder Bush spoke to the unexpected challenges that can arise during a president’s administration – in reference to the September 11th attacks – and how his brother has the kind of background and steadiness needed to deal with those challenges if elected.
The former president also touted his brother’s ability to compete for the Latino vote and called it an essential element to winning the White House in 2016.
The long-planned two-day Houston strategy session and donor meeting followed news Friday that the Bush campaign is trimming resources by reducing the size of its headquarters and slashing payroll by 40%. The campaign is also trimming its travel budget and other costs not associated with media or voter outreach.
George W. Bush’s appearances on behalf of his brother have been limited to closed-door functions and fundraisers as the campaign wrestles with how much to embrace or separate itself from the former president. Monday’s joint appearance by the Bush brothers, while still behind closed doors, is the most high profile appearance to date.
Reports from the event indicate the refocused campaign message will center more on Bush’s ability to fix a broken Washington and an argument based on comparing the governor’s record with the resumes of his opponents.
That message comes with special attention to one of Bush’s rivals for the nomination – fellow Floridian Marco Rubio – painting the freshman senator as inexperienced and ill prepared to be commander-in-chief. Bush frequently alludes to Rubio with knocks on his voting record in Washington and ramped up that rhetoric today alluding to a veto of a Rubio bill in Florida.
Additionally the campaign plans to highlight national security in a clear nod to the current administration’s foreign policy and the roll played by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Supporters in Houston were presented data on Bush’s ability to face Clinton in a general election matchup – highlighting his strengths in categories like trustworthiness where Clinton has traditionally struggled.
But in order to reach the general election, Bush must first survive what has been a fierce Republican presidential primary. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last week showed Bush with support from eight percent of Republican primary voters, putting him in fifth place.
On the trail, Bush maintains that despite the retooled strategy he will continue to run what he calls a “joyful” campaign that he says is designed to win when voters actually head to polls early next year.
“I don’t want to be elected president to sit around and see gridlock just become so dominant that people literally are in decline in their lives,” Bush said over the weekend. “I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around, being miserable, listening to people demonize me and me feeling compelled to demonize them. That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.”
Those sentiments were echoed Monday by the former president who said his brother is focused on running a positive campaign focused on the issues.