Last week, George Prescott Bush announced that he would run for Texas attorney general next year. It's a definite power play from Bush, the land commissioner in a state where former President George W. Bush, his uncle, was once governor. He's the last of the Bush lineage still in political office.
There are dynasties and then there are dynasties. No matter how you feel about them, the Bush family has been one of the most influential clans in modern U.S. history. Like most political families in the U.S., the Bushes have stayed loyal to one party — the Republican Party, in their case.
But despite an unbroken string of service — including two presidencies, two governorships and a combined 14 years in Congress — the Republican Party has not always returned the favor. It's been up to each member to evolve with the party or be discarded. Now, the youngest member of the line has decided his political future requires embracing former President Donald Trump, a man who's gone of his way to reject and scorn everything his family has done.
I don't just mean to say he supports Trump casually. No, Trump is already a central part of his sales pitch to Texas voters. Some of his campaign's first merchandise features Trump and George P. shaking hands with a quote from the former president: "This is the only Bush that likes me! This is the Bush that got it right. I like him."
Bush said in a Fox Radio interview Friday: "My argument is, look, when Bushes and Trumps come together, good things happen. ... We make a really good team. Dad gets it."
It's quite the supplication from someone who has connections to decidedly less criminal politicians that he can highlight in his campaign. It's also harsh given the things Trump said about his father — former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — during the 2016 presidential campaign, including calling him "Low Energy Jeb," "dumb as a rock" and an "embarrassment to his family."
It's quite the supplication from someone with connections to decidedly less criminal politicians that he can highlight in his campaign.
But this isn't the same party that Sen. Prescott Bush, R-Conn., George P.'s great-grandfather, served in. Back in the Eisenhower era, Prescott Bush was a typical Northeastern Republican — liberal-ish on social policies, with strong ties to big business. When he retired in 1963, the party was already beginning to shift around him. The following year, his former colleague Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., would win the GOP nomination for president, marking a rightward swing that hasn't halted since then.
By the time his son George Herbert Walker Bush became vice president in 1981, the party was in the thrall of Reaganism. While moderate himself, George H.W. used the assignments President Ronald Reagan gave him, including leading a task force to slash government regulations, to get in good with the Republicans' more conservative wing. When he ran for president again in 1988, his victory grew from his embrace of the sharper, more negative tactics championed by his advisers, who included the likes of Roger Ailes, who would go on to build Fox News, and Lee Atwater, the infamous GOP political operative.
Once in office, Bush would find that he couldn't keep up with the deepening conservatism of the party. His campaign pledge to never raise taxes ran up against the realities of governing — George H.W. never recovered from the fuss that was raised among the anti-tax maximalists. He went on to lose his bid for re-election in 1992 to Bill Clinton. But Clinton would two years later face the wave of right-wing Republicans swept into office on the promise of Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey's Contract with America. For all he tried to match their intensity, George H.W. was already too moderate for what the GOP was becoming.
George P. has opted — much like the generations of Bush politicians before him — to go with the flow.
George W. Bush campaigned as a "compassionate conservative" in 2000, a moderation that left many undecided voters unable to draw major distinctions between him and Vice President Al Gore. That governing theory went out the window, though, after 9/11, when the GOP became the anti-terrorism party. The resulting wars would define both of George W.'s terms as he molded himself and his presidency to fit the hawkish mindset of his advisers and the party as a whole.
He left office with an approval rating of only 33 percent in a CNN/ORC poll conducted a month after his term — but 76 percent of Republicans still approved of him. Fast-forward eight years, to the end of President Barack Obama's two terms, and while his favorability still remained high in the GOP, his disapproval had "tripled from 7 percent to 21 percent since 2015," CNN reported in 2018.
George W. was notably absent during the 2016 race, even as his brother Jeb(!) was campaigning. It's not clear that his presence would have helped much in the primary season that would leave Trump as the nominee — the party had moved on from the brand of conservatism that Jeb represented. In its place, the angry, populist, overtly racist sentiments of Trump had won out.
Jeb, to his credit, never tried to evolve with the party to match Trump's rhetoric. Neither did the rest of his family: George H.W. voted for Hillary Clinton, the wife of the man who ended his time in the White House, in 2016; George W. said he left his ballot blank rather than vote for Trump. George W. also spoke out several times against Trump's worst policies, saying in 2017 that "bigotry and white supremacy, in any form, is blasphemy against the American creed."
George H.W. tried to make amends, making sure Trump was invited to his funeral before he died in 2018. But Trump never hesitated to knock the Bush family, often with no provocation. Earlier that year, Trump attacked out of nowhere a line from George H.W.'s inaugural address that encouraged Americans to volunteer:
I know one thing: ‘Make America Great Again’ we understand. ‘Putting America First’ we understand. ‘Thousand points of light’? I never got that one. What the hell is that? Has anyone figured that out? It was put out by a Republican.
Now George P. has opted — much like the generations of Bush politicians before him — to go with the flow. He can see where the party is right now, and he sees that if he wants to advance it's going to be on Trump's coattails. He might be right. But I have to say: It's pretty amazing to see such speedy natural selection take place before our eyes. In just two generations, George P. has managed to evolve into an invertebrate, losing his spine completely.