George W. Bush left the White House with an approval rating of 34 percent, and he remains one of the most divisive political figures in the nation. But his brother sees a huge upside and plans to join forces with the 43rd president on the campaign trail.
“He's the most popular Republican alive,” Jeb Bush said Wednesday in an interview with Bloomberg Politics. “George, if you look at his favorability among Republican, it's pretty serious.”
Bush said details of when the two brothers would campaign together are being worked out. Asked if the former president, who was viewed favorably by three out of four Republicans in a recent Bloomberg Politics national poll, would campaign with him in South Carolina, Bush said: “That's my hope.”
“It's appropriate to kind of set the table a little bit to get a sense of where we are,” Bush said. “Iowa and New Hampshire are going to change whatever the dynamics look like today, one way or another.”
South Carolina holds its primary on Feb. 20.
As the son and brother of the past two Republican presidents, Jeb Bush's handling of his family's legacy has been perhaps his biggest weaknesses and greatest annoyances. His ability to settle on an answer that satisfies voters' distress over sending another Bush to the White House may determine whether he can revive his campaign in a crowded Republican field.
Still, many South Carolina Republicans have been urging Bush to bring his brother to the state, where a Bush presidential candidate has never lost a primary.
Katon Dawson, a former South Carolina Republican chairman, told Bloomberg Politics that the former president might be the only Republican who could take down Donald Trump, the free-wheeling former reality TV show host who is the front-runner for the nomination. “If he engages, and Trump comes after 43?” Dawson said, referring to the 43rd U.S. president. “You gotta know who 43 is to know that you can punch him once, but you won't punch his ass twice.”
The political complications for Jeb Bush surrounding his brother are polls that show Americans remain divided on his brother, who pushed through major conservative hallmarks such as a partial-birth abortion ban and $1.3 trillion in tax cuts, but also disappointed large portions of Americans with his handling of the Iraq war.
Seven years after leaving the White House, George W. Bush remains an unpopular figure with most Americans, according to a Bloomberg Politics national poll in November. In that poll, 45 percent had a favorable view of the former president, compared to 50 percent who viewed him unfavorably.
But when only Republicans are asked, the picture is starkly different: 77 percent of members of his own party give the former president a favorable rating, making him the most popular Republican in the survey.
“It may go against the conventional wisdom outside of the Republican world,” Bush said, adding that Republican voters regularly ask him about his family at campaign events.
“The anecdotes just accumulate—people saying, ‘How's you're brother doing, How's your father doing?’” Bush said. “It's part of who I am.”
Bush said Mitt Romney, the party's presidential nominee in 2012, was the only Republican who could compare to his brother's popularity. “These are iconic figures in our party,” Bush said.
Barbara Bush, wife of former President George H.W. Bush and mother to Jeb and George, has already been featured in an ad. Released last week, the former first lady vouches for his son, assuring viewers that “people are going to realize Jeb has real solutions, rather than talking about how popular they are, how great they are.”
The line was seen as a shot at Trump, who wrote on Twitter that Jeb “desperately needed mommy to help him.”
Bush said he talked to his mother on Tuesday, saying “she doesn't care” what Trump says. The Bush campaign responded to Trump with a picture of Barbara Bush in shoulder pads and eye black.
“She thought it was hilarious we did the picture with the shoulders pads,” Bush said. “She thought it was funny.”