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Eye On Candidates
August 27, 2015

Jeb Bush Chalks Up a Win Over the Shadow

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has spent much of the campaign attempting to distinguish his own record and agenda from those of both his father and, in particular, his brother, the 41st and 43rd presidents respectively. At times he has struggled to do so, in particular regarding the Iraq invasion where he seemed to give three conflicting answers over a one-week period.

A recent U.S. News & World Report article highlighted Bush’s problem with his family’s legacy:

Escaping Family Ties

Jeb Bush is having enormous difficulty staying away from the third rail of his presidential campaign – the record of his brother, former President George W. Bush, especially on the Iraq war. Whenever Bush addresses Iraq as an issue, it reminds people of the unpopularity of the conflict launched by his brother to depose dictator Saddam Hussein and find weapons of mass destruction that, it turned out, didn't exist….

Campaigning at the Iowa State Fair last week, Bush was peppered with questions from citizens about George W. Bush's war. Jeb conceded that answering for Dubya's decisions presented a tough challenge for him but added that he is his own person and will come up with his own policies….

More broadly, Jeb is being criticized for using the same advisers who counseled his brother and father on foreign and military affairs. They include former Secretary of State James Baker, who served his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who worked for Dubya. Bush replies that he also listens to other advisers who didn't work for his brother and father.

There isn’t much Jeb Bush can do about his family name, of course, but bringing on advisors closely linked to the decision to go to war in Iraq was probably an avoidable error, at least if the campaign wants to minimize unfavorable assumptions about how much a Jeb Bush administration might resemble the George W. Bush administration.

More recently, however, Bush has managed to turn such comparisons to his advantage by touting his record during the eight hurricanes (yes, eight) that hit Florida and the gulf region in 2004 and 2005. From CNN:

Jeb Bush distinguishes himself from brother in handling of hurricanes

Jeb Bush's campaign might have approached the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with great trepidation. George W. Bush's handling of that natural disaster was one of the lowest points in his presidency -- and its commemoration yet another instance where Jeb Bush would face the long shadow of his family name.

But ironically, the nadir of George W. Bush's presidency was a moment where the younger Bush shone as governor of Florida, leading an effective emergency response and managing the chaos of the eight hurricanes that hit the region in 2004 and 2005.

After struggling with how much to distance Jeb Bush from George W. Bush, and as the candidate himself has shown a clear reluctance to criticize his older brother, the Bush campaign Wednesday sought to highlight Jeb's response to the storms that dogged his sibling. Though Jeb did not overtly criticize his brother's response to Hurricane Katrina at an event along the Florida Gulf Coast Wednesday, the contrast was implicit.

The “long shadow” referred to in the article includes a Google search result for the terms “Jeb Bush,” “shadow,” and “George” that turns up more than a half-million responses.

According to The Washington Post, Bush spent yesterday in Pensacola, Fla., holding a town hall meeting focused on the storms and highlighting his leadership during that time:

For most Americans, the storm that stands out from that period is Katrina — which decimated New Orleans and plunged George W. Bush’s presidency into crisis after the government’s poor response. In Florida, by contrast, many agree that Jeb Bush knew how to handle hurricanes.

Whether Jeb Bush can turn his hurricane experiences into political gain — and separate himself from his controversial brother in the process — could prove critical to his fight for the Republican presidential nomination….

The complaints about “another” Bush running for president are, whatever their merit, a real problem for the former Florida governor’s campaign. After initial stumbles responding to questions and concerns raised about his father and brother, at least today it appears the campaign has figured out not only that they need to address the issue, but how to do it effectively. Supporters of Bush should feel some sense of relief that the campaign appears to be handling one of its biggest problems.