George W. Bush Makes Campaign Trail Debut For His Brother
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush spent the beginning of his campaign insisting he is 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 more publicly embraced his brother on the trail, and today, he brought him out to campaign with him for the first time. It happened tonight in South Carolina where Republican primary voters go to the polls on Saturday. Here's George W. Bush making the case for his brother.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
GEORGE W. BUSH: 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.
BUSH: The presidency is a serious job that requires sound judgment and good ideas, and there's no doubt in my mind that Jeb Bush has the experience and the character to be a great president.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Don Gonyea is in North Charleston, S.C., where the Bush brothers appeared before a big, enthusiastic crowd. And Don, why has Jeb Bush called on his brother now?
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Well, Jeb Bush's campaign needs something. It needs a jolt (laughter). And frankly, they're hoping that the 43rd president of the United States, his older brother, George W. Bush, can do it for him. Look; Jeb Bush's best night of the campaign so far was the New Hampshire primary just about a week ago. That was a fourth-place finish. He was in fifth place in Iowa. He can't have a repeat of either of those things in South Carolina. If he doesn't do well here, then it's probably over. George W. Bush remains very popular here, especially with, you know, mainstream Republicans and military Republicans, military families and veterans. They're hoping that he can encourage some of them to go with his younger brother.
SHAPIRO: Well, tell us about how this rally felt. You covered George W. Bush when you were a White House correspondent. That President has not been on the campaign trail for a very long time. What happened today?
GONYEA: This was not the combative George W. Bush that we saw in 2000 or that we saw in 2004 when he was seeking reelection. And of course, he was not out there in 2008 or 2012. He's been laying low in Dallas where he lives now, you know, painting. He seemed a little bit rusty at first, you know, maybe some cobwebs. He hasn't been doing this, frankly, so it's not an easy thing to jump up there and do.
But you know, he had a few jokes. He reminisced about, you know, in the year 2000 when he first ran and came to South Carolina himself, he participated in the okra walk (laughter), you know, and - O-K-R-A - and was, you know, thrilled they didn't make him dress up like a piece of okra. But then any speech by George W. Bush obviously leads to that day - 9/11 of 2001 and how that changed his presidency and made him a war president. So a lot of it was about that very serious stuff, making the point that Jeb Bush is someone who was tested as governor by hurricanes and other unexpected things, and he's got the temperament and the leadership to take over the reins of the presidency.
SHAPIRO: Is there any risk of the former president outshining his brother who is currently running for the office?
GONYEA: You know, he spoke longer than his brother. He spoke for a half an hour. Jeb Bush spoke for about 20 minutes, but it didn't feel like he was - there was any kind of one-ups-manship (ph) or that he was outshining him. I can tell you he was clearly the draw for most people here. A lot of people do - I talked to in the crowd - still really adore, love this president, this former president. But I also didn't talk to a single person who said that means they support Jeb Bush.
SHAPIRO: Donald Trump has relentlessly been slamming Jeb Bush for turning to his family, accusing George W. Bush of not keeping the country safe during 9/11. How did that come across in this rally tonight with both Bush brothers?
GONYEA: George W. Bush's speech was kind of all about Trump without mentioning him by name. He said, you know something? From experience, he says, the loudest person in the room isn't usually the person who's correct or the best leader. When Jeb Bush stepped up, he said, enough about the frontrunner; let's talk about what I'm going to do for this country. But Trump was present and accounted for here, at least his, you know, his character.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea joining us from North Charleston, S.C. Thank you, Don.
GONYEA: You're welcome.