Barbara Bush Hits The Trail For Son Jeb Bush

Feb 5, 2016
Originally published on February 5, 2016 12:02 pm

In a year where so many Republican voters are angry at Washington, it can be tough to have two former presidents in your family.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has struggled with that dynamic his entire campaign — sometimes embracing the Bush legacy, and sometimes holding it at arm's length. (The campaign logo is Jeb!, not Bush!)

Bush has now decided to fully lean into his family's 12 years in the White House. Former President George W. Bush just cut an ad for a Bush-affiliated superPAC. On Thursday night in Derry, N.H., former first lady Barbara Bush joined Jeb on the campaign trail.

Barbara Bush spoke only for about a minute and a half, but she lavished praise on a son who seems like he could use it. Bush is lagging in the polls, his one-time mentee Marco Rubio is surging and Republican voters just don't seem that interested in government experience this year.

"I didn't really plan on this," Barbara Bush said. "But Jeb is the nicest, wisest, most caring, loyal, disciplined," she said, adding, "Not by me!" when the audience laughed.

"But he's not a bragger," she said. "We don't allow that."

"He's decent and honest. He's everything we need as a president," she said. "His dad and I are very, very proud of him."

Bush has hovered around 10 percent in New Hampshire polls, in a clump alongside Govs. John Kasich and Chris Christie, as well as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Like his father and brother before him, he's had his spell of campaign trail gaffes, including a moment this week when he implored a silent audience to applaud.

Thursday night's overflow crowd clearly energized Bush and his campaign. Staffers were gushing to each other about the turnout before the event began, and Bush spoke and answered questions for more than an hour. "Mom, my crowd sizes aren't normally this large," Bush quipped. "I wonder why."

But while the audience was quick to heap applause on Barbara Bush, several Republicans in the crowd seemed wary of a fourth Bush term. "I've supported his father; I supported George twice," said Bill Manning. "And, you know, it's probably just a name — I'm not going to support the Bushes — I don't think I'm going to support the Bushes anymore."

Manning says he's specifically looking for a nonestablishment candidate this year. "Listen, I'm 73," he said. "I've been voting for a long time. I've listened to their promises for years and years," he said, and then seen the same problems crop up again in the next election.

Manning is thinking about voting for Donald Trump, though he says he's turned off by "his bellicose attitude, his smirky attitude and his name-calling."

Bush has to walk a tricky line with voters like Manning. He owns up to the "establishment" label at every campaign event now, saying it comes with the territory of being "Barbara Bush's son."

"I'm proud of my dad. I'm proud of my brother. I'm proud of being a Bush," he told the Derry crowd. "But like all families, we're a little different, each one of us. I don't think – if you have a sister or a brother you're probably not the same. We're all a little different."

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In a year where many Republican voters are angry at Washington, it can be tough to have two former presidents in the family. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has struggled with that dynamic. But last night, he leaned into the Bush dynasty, campaigning alongside his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush. NPR's Scott Detrow has more from Manchester, N.H.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: When things aren't going well - like when you finish in the low single digits in Iowa and are trailing in the polls behind a politician you used to mentor and voters just don't seem to be valuing government experience all that much - you know you can always turn to your mom for support. Barbara Bush told the Derry, N.H. crowd she hadn't planned on campaigning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARBARA BUSH: But Jeb is the nicest, wisest, most caring, loyal, disciplined...

(LAUGHTER)

B. BUSH: That's good. Not by me

DETROW: The former first lady only spoke for about a minute and a half, but she drew an overflow crowd.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

B. BUSH: His dad and I are very, very proud of him. Ladies and gentlemen, the next president of the United States, Jeb Bush.

(APPLAUSE)

JEB BUSH: Mom, my crowd sizes normally aren't this large. I wonder why.

DETROW: Establishment is a word you hear a lot in New Hampshire right now. Bill Manning says he's specifically looking for a nonestablishment candidate this year.

BILL MANNING: Listen, I'm 73 and I've been voting for a long time. I've listened to the promises for years and years.

DETROW: And yet, he says, most big problems aren't fixed. When Manning asked a question, Jeb invited him to come over and shake Barbara's hand. But Manning says...

MANNING: I've supported his father. I supported George twice. And, you know, it's probably just a name. I'm not going to support the Bushes, and I don't think I'm going to support the Bushes anymore.

DETROW: Here's what Bush says to voters like Manning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

J. BUSH: I'm proud of my dad. I'm proud of my brother. I'm proud of being a Bush.

(APPLAUSE)

J. BUSH: But like all families, we're little different - each one of us. I don't think - I mean, if you have a sister or a brother, you're probably not the same, right? We're all a little different.

DETROW: Still, those differences aside, it looks like Bush is finally fully embracing his family and its 12 years in the White House. Shortly before the event with Barbara Bush began, word broke that George W. Bush will appear in a new ad for the superPAC supporting Jeb. Scott Detrow, NPR News, Manchester, N.H. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.