Bush was political patriarch to enduring American dynasty
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Kennedys had their New England coastal hideaway in Hyannis Port, a Camelot-like mystique and a political godfather in Joseph P. Kennedy.
For the country’s other political dynasty — the Bushes — it was a summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, and the West Texas oil patch that created a mix of Yale blue-blood and backcountry cowboy, and their own patriarch in George H.W. Bush.
Bush, who died late Friday at age 94 , was a World War II hero, a Texas congressman, the director of the CIA, vice president and eventually president. His son, George W., served as Texas governor and two terms in the White House.
Though another son, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, turned monster fundraising into an embarrassingly short-lived 2016 presidential run — his campaign eviscerated by Donald Trump — the family’s future political prowess remains intact, including with Jeb’s 42-year-old son, George P. Bush, who is seen as a rising GOP star by Republican powerbrokers nationwide. He currently is Texas land commissioner, leading a powerful state agency that oversees mineral rights critical to oil and natural gas exploration on Texas’ 13 million acres of public land.
“I think when people hear the name George H.W. Bush they think of the word ‘statesman,’” George P. Bush told The Associated Press in 2013. “And I think his career really represents a generation that many Americans now and in the future will consider our country’s greatest generation.”
Some historians regard George H.W. Bush as more-bipartisan than his presidential successors — and his softer-spoken, humbler style is a far cry from Trump. Bush is also remembered as ending the Cold War, though he also invaded Panama and brought America to war for the first time against Saddam Hussein.
But defining an overall Bush family political legacy gets tougher, though, when considering that George W. Bush led the Iraq War in 2003, accusing Hussein of having non-existent weapons of mass destruction. And while the elder Bush’s 1992 re-election bid was marred by his reneging on his “Read my lips: No new taxes” pledge, the younger Bush presided over a financial crisis that triggered the Great Recession.
Russ Baker, author of “Family of Secrets,” a biography of the Bushes, said the family is better known for building an enduring political dynasty than for their policy or ideology, especially by following the lead of George H.W. Bush and his wife of 73 years, Barbara, who died in April 2018.
“They meet people and they all know to collect the name of every person you ever meet. Grandfather and grandmother had a Christmas card list of 40,000,” Baker said in 2017.
“The Bush family are the greatest ever at leveraging their communal family assets. Better, I believe, than even the Kennedys,” he added. “They are masters, they all get it. They understand this is what they are supposed to do.”
Developing powerful friends across business and politics has helped the family build and maintain a large network of national Republican donors that has continued to support the Bushes through its revolving cast of candidates.
Beyond fundraising, though, George H.W. Bush earned entree into the Mexican oil business in the 1960s after first meeting an executive from that country at a Texas A&M football game. Family ties to financiers helped Jeb Bush get his start in Florida real estate in the 1980s, and connections aided in George W. Bush’s becoming part owner of the Texas Rangers from 1989 until being elected Texas governor in 1994.
Jeb Bush, who built his career in Florida rather than the East Coast or Texas, also brought a multiculturalism to the family that didn’t serve him well in a nationalistic-minded 2016 campaign dominated by Trump but another dimension to the Bush clan. His wife, Columba, was born in Mexico, and Jeb and George P. Bush like to chat in Spanish.
Still, George H.W. Bush, while vice president in 1998, introduced George P. and Jeb’s other children to President Ronald Reagan as the “little brown ones.” Bush subsequently bristled at suggestions that was racist, saying his heart contained “nothing but pride and love” for his grandchildren.
The Bush family has for more than a century helped shape the American business and energy sectors, as well as politics.
Born during the Civil War, Samuel Prescott Bush was George H.W. Bush’s grandfather and built the family fortune as a railroad and steel magnate, mostly in Ohio. His son, Prescott Sheldon Bush, was a Yale graduate and investment banker twice elected to the U.S. Senate from Connecticut. He left office in 1963, the same year John F. Kennedy was assassinated and the year after Teddy Kennedy was elected senator from Massachusetts.
George H.W. Bush also went to Yale, but to make his own name for himself apart from past Bush successes, he headed to Texas and the oil business — before being elected to Congress from Houston in 1966.
George P. Bush — the “P″ stands for Prescott — went to Afghanistan as a Navy Reserve intelligence officer. He later accomplished something no one else in the family ever had in 2014: he won the first political race he ever entered in securing Texas’ land commissionership.
George H.W. Bush lost his first race in politics, for the U.S. Senate from Texas in 1964. Fourteen years later, George W. Bush was defeated in his first race, for a West Texas congressional seat, and Jeb Bush was unsuccessful in his first Florida gubernatorial bid in 1994. Even Prescott Sheldon Bush came up short in his first his bid for political office, when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1950.
George P. Bush, the only member of his family to campaign for Trump after his father dropped out of the race, largely shrugs off questions about his family dynasty and his responsibility for keeping it alive politically. His father’s 2016 loss could also alleviate some of the political dynastical pressures that might otherwise have hampered his future career.
He said that former first lady Barbara Bush made clear that family members wouldn’t be able to coast on their last name alone. “It’s always been the thing of my grandmother to, ‘Go out and make a name for yourself,’” Bush said in 2013.
He characterized the family credo as: “Service to others, giving back whenever you can, counting your blessings and being good to those who are good to you.”
See AP’s complete coverage of George H.W. Bush here: https://www.apnews.com/GeorgeHWBush