George W. Bush Stumps For His Brother In South Carolina
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Republican Jeb Bush spent the beginning of his presidential campaign insisting that he's his own man, not his father, the 41st president, and especially not his brother, the 43rd president, George W. Bush. But over time, Jeb Bush has embraced his brother more publicly on the trail, and today, he'll campaign with him for the first time in South Carolina where Republican primary voters go to the polls on Saturday. Voters there are already hearing the former president talking up his brother on the airwaves, like in this TV ad.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
GEORGE W. BUSH: The first job of the president is to protect America. Our next president must be prepared to lead. I know Jeb. I know his good heart and his strong backbone. Jeb will unite our country.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Don Gonyea is in North Charleston, S.C., where the Bush brothers will appear in just a little while together. And Don, why is Jeb Bush calling on his brother now?
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: The simple answer is that he needs him, or, maybe more to the point, he needs something to happen. Ari, Jeb's best night of this campaign so far was New Hampshire, you know, just a week ago. He finished in fourth place. They treated that like a victory. He's not even doing that well here in South Carolina. So you know, he needs something to give his campaign a jolt, and George W. Bush is very popular here - still very high approval ratings, especially among military families and veterans.
The other thing, Ari, is the Bush campaign and the Bush family would love to see history repeat itself. Let's go back to ancient history, the year 2000. The campaign of George W. Bush for president was struggling. He came to South Carolina and righted the ship. Now, there were allegations back then of dirty tricks and emails - anonymous emails that attacked his main opponent, John McCain. Those things were all denied. George W. Bush won. They'd like to see that again.
SHAPIRO: Now, you were a White House correspondent during George W. Bush's presidency. You know the man well. Remind us what he's like as a campaigner and how that compares with his brother.
GONYEA: Well, George W. was always - seems, at least, to be a very happy warrior. He loved it, even if he would mangle the English language every now and then.
GONYEA: Jeb Bush - he - you know, he's been loosing up lately, but he's never really seems to run the joyful campaign he promised so they're very different in that way. Then, Ari, there's the beer test, right? It's very superficial, but the question...
SHAPIRO: Do you want to have a beer with the guy?
GONYEA: Exactly. And George W. Bush won that contest every time.
SHAPIRO: Even if he personally doesn't drink.
GONYEA: Exactly, exactly. And Jeb just doesn't win that contest.
SHAPIRO: That being the case, is there some risk of George W. Bush outshining his brother, Jeb, who is the one running for office?
GONYEA: There's perhaps some risk of that. Now, we don't know if George W. Bush is rust, right? He didn't do anything in the 2008 or 2012 campaigns. He's been - you know, he's been in Dallas, and he's been giving private speeches. So we'll see how good he is these days. But you know, if there's some risk that he could overshadow his brother, I think they're willing to take that risk in hopes of getting the good press out of it and the attention.
SHAPIRO: Now, Donald Trump, who appears to be the frontrunner in polls in South Carolina, has relentlessly been slamming Jeb Bush for turning to his family for help. Trump spoke a short time ago at a press conference. Let's listen to what he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
DONALD TRUMP: I've heard for years he kept the country safe after 9/11. What does that mean - after? What about during 9/11? I was there. I lost a lot of friends that were killed in that building.
SHAPIRO: Really direct attack there on George W. Bush - Don, how has Jeb Bush been responding to Trump's criticism?
GONYEA: He pushes back hard. It makes him the guy who is willing to stand up to Donald Trump. I also got an email from the Bush campaign this week - under the subject line, Donald has crossed the line. It was about that very attack and those like it. I can tell you that that email was also a fundraising request.
SHAPIRO: And when you talk to voters in South Carolina, does it feel like Trump has crossed a line by attacking George W. Bush? You say Bush is well-liked there.
GONYEA: Bush is very much well-liked, but look; I haven't had a chance to get reaction at thing event yet. But others around the state who I talked to - they say, hey, it's politics, and you've got to expect that kind of rough and tumble.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea in North Charleston, S.C., where Jeb Bush will shortly be appearing with his brother, former President George W. Bush. Thanks, Don.
GONYEA: All right, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.