George W Bush tries to revive Jeb’s presidential campaign

Former US president delivers several thinly veiled swipes at his brother’s rival Donald Trump

Former US President George W. Bush gives his younger brother, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, a brotherly hand in his 2016 White House bid. Video: Reuters

 

Former US president George W Bush made a return to the political spotlight at an election rally in South Carolina on Monday night in a bid to revive the flagging presidential campaign of his younger brother, Jeb.

The 43rd president delivered several thinly veiled swipes at businessman Donald Trump who has stunned the Washington political mainstream by leading the Republican presidential primary race and relegating Jeb Bush, a former governor of Florida, to also-ran status.

Without naming him, the former president attempted to draw a contrast between the bombastic Trump and his cerebral brother, who has become something of a political punchbag for the entertainment and property mogul in his angry, high-octane campaign.

“Strength is not empty rhetoric. It is not bluster. It is not theatrics,” said Mr Bush, referring to the trait required in the right candidate. “Real strength, strength of purpose, comes from integrity and character, and in my experience, the strongest person isn’t usually the loudest one in the room.”

The former president appeared in front of more than 1,000 people at a rally in North Charleston, South Carolina five days before the state’s primary, the first in the American south and the third in the White House race.

It was the first time that George W has campaigned for his brother since Jeb launched his presidential bid in June.

The younger Bush needs all the support he can get if he is to deliver a strong performance in South Carolina. He must perform well to keep his presidential hopes alive after coming sixth in Iowa and fourth in New Hampshire.

Mr Trump leads Republican polls in South Carolina with 36 per cent and a 18-point margin on his closest rival. He has more than four times the support of Mr Bush in the state which voted for his father, George HW, twice and his brother twice in their presidential bids.

The businessman attacked the former president in last Saturday’s ninth Republican debate, claiming that he was partly to blame for the September 11, 2001 attacks and made “a big fat mistake” by invading Iraq in 2003, saying his administration “lied” about there being weapons of mass destruction in the Middle Eastern country.

Mr Trump stepped up his attacks on the Bush family, posting on Twitter that Jeb needed his “mommy and now brother to save his campaign.”

Mr Bush’s mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, campaigned for her son in the New Hampshire last week.

“There seems to be a lot of name-calling going on but I want to remind you what our good Dad told me one time: labels are for soup cans,” said the former president, drawing laughs from the crowd.

While George W privately is said to have struggled to understand Trump’s popularity, he made reference to the unhappiness of some Americans that the reality TV star has vented so effectively.

“These are tough times,” he said. “I understand that Americans are angry and frustrated, but we do not need someone in the Oval Office who mirrors and enflames our anger in frustration.”

He painted his brother, six years his junior, as a more electable politician who can appeal to a wide cross-section of people and who — in an anonymous dig at Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton — “will not need a poll or focus group to tell him how to think or what to do.”

“All the sloganeering and all the talk don’t matter if we don’t win,” said the 43rd president, urging voters to make his brother the 45th. “We need someone who can take a positive message across the entire country, someone who can inspire an appeal to people from all walks of life, not just one party or one class of people.”

The former president was his typical folksy self at times during his campaign speech, joking about post-presidential life in retirement and his perception among liberals as an anti-intellectual buffoon and referring to his capacity to mangle the English language in speeches.

“I have written two books which has surprised a lot of people, particularly up east who didn’t think I could read, much less write,” he said, to chuckles from the crowd.

“I have been wanting to defy expectations. I have been ‘misunderestimated’ most of my life,” he added. Mr Bush quipped that he spends a lot of time farming trees on his Texas ranch which gave him a chance “to practise my stump speech.” “As a real shock to people, I have become an oil painter,” he said. “But let me assure you I know that the signature is worth more than the painting.”

While one of the least popular presidents ever leaving office in 2009, Mr Bush still has a strong standing amongst Republicans. A Bloomberg poll in November put his favourability rating at 77 per cent. The Bushes remain especially popular among Republicans in South Carolina, which has a number of large US military facilities.