Jeb Bush: Next In Line

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from TIME Magazine,

Where JEB fits in the family business.

Since jumping into the race in mid-December, Bush has often netted a million bucks a day and sometimes more. He raised $2.3 million in Tampa on Jan. 26 and $4.2 million in Chicago on Feb. 18. At least six gatherings have come with $100,000-per-head price tags, including a soirée at a Park Avenue triplex in Manhattan. During a Feb. 17 trip to Washington, several hundred donors packed a house in the suburb of McLean, Va., paying up to $25,000 apiece. The hosts ran out of name tags. “It’s incredible,” marvels a longtime GOP bundler working for one of Bush’s rivals. “It’s just an ass kicking.”

Already this gusher of cash has chased Mitt Romney from the field, crushed Chris Christie’s momentum and sent a message to Hillary Clinton that Bush’s super PAC will set the pace in the dynastic clash looming next year. The former Florida governor is taunting Clinton in other ways as well. He coughed up gigabytes of government emails and hints that he will release up to 10 years of tax returns, creating a standard for transparency that Clinton is struggling to match. By the time Bush abandons the pretense about exploring a run and officially launches his campaign–which could be as soon as mid-April–allies believe his fundraising tally may approach $100 million, smashing the records set by Romney and Barack Obama four years ago.

And only a Bush could have done it. Jeb, 62, was bequeathed a standing army of elite operatives and rainmakers, a birthright nurtured by three generations of trench warfare and thank-you notes. It’s easy to grasp why the GOP’s grandees are lately smitten with the second son of George H.W. and Barbara Bush. A two-term governor of the ultimate swing state, Bush earned high marks for ushering in sweeping conservative reforms. He’s a Spanish-speaking wonk with a multicultural family that mirrors the nation’s metamorphosis, and he may be the only Republican with the mix of money, moxie and policy mastery to match Clinton.

But only if his surname doesn’t sink him first. After two Bushes in the Oval Office, even many Republicans are leery of a third. Dynasty has vaulted him to the front of the field, yet its handicaps could just as easily trip him up.

John Ellis Bush is so fundamentally a member of political royalty that the Bush brand is in his name twice.

Since birth, he has been burdened, blessed and shaped by this legacy. The grandson of a Senator, the son and brother of Presidents, he experienced the kind of expectations that come from sharing dinners with two people who would run the free world. Forging his own identity was neither easy nor linear. He rebelled as a teenager, then found love young in central Mexico. In business, the family name helped him make millions. In politics, the determination to avoid old family mistakes contributed to an early defeat before he found his footing as a powerful governor.

Now, on the biggest stage of all, he must once again balance the best and worst parts of being a Bush. “It’s an interesting challenge for me,” he told a crowd crammed into a Detroit ballroom on Feb. 4 for the first speech of his unofficial campaign. “I’m going to have to do it on my own.”

Dynasty may seem like destiny for Bush now, but it didn’t always look that way. When Jeb left Tallahassee eight years ago, the Bush brand was in tatters as his brother’s presidency limped to its conclusion. Until recently the prospect of a political resurrection looked bleak. “We’ve had enough Bushes,” Barbara Bush declared in 2013. If Jeb ran, she noted, he would inherit “all our enemies, half of our friends.”

That was probably a bit of sly misdirection by Barbara, who is no slouch at political messaging. But it is true that the obstacles to a campaign went beyond the foreign policy misadventures of his brother, his father’s failing health and his mother’s seeming doubts. There were also the complications of the family he created. His daughter Noelle had struggled with drugs. And the long journey from León, Mexico, to the statehouse in Leon County, Florida, had long been rocky for Columba.

As Bush sought his wife’s blessing, the family brand was slowly rising from the ashes. The 43rd President’s biography of the 41st, coupled with a hagiographic HBO documentary, formed the core of a quiet campaign to stoke nostalgia for the first Bush presidency and thaw opposition to a third. At the same time, Obama’s struggles to tame Islamic extremism refired the Restoration instincts in Republican politics. By June 2014, George W. Bush’s approval rating trumped Obama’s in Gallup polling, breaking the 50% threshold for the first time in nearly a decade.

Brother George began to lobby him privately and for him publicly, telling one gathering of family retainers that the brand name was no longer an obstacle. “What’s the difference if it’s Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Clinton,” he asked, “or Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Bush?”

There is little doubt which President Bush Jeb prefers. “Imagine what it would be like to be Michael Jordan’s son going out to play basketball,” he told Esquire in 2008. Just last month, Bush declared his dad “the greatest man alive” and joked that he would step outside to fight anyone who disagreed.

The relationship with his brother is more complicated. The two have never been close. Separated by 6½ years in age and a similar gulf in temperament, they grew up in different places (W. in Midland, Jeb in Houston), made their fortunes in different states and gravitated toward different religious traditions.

Once Jeb committed, the Bush clan was “all in,” says a family member.

And so the Bush money machine is cranking back up again, the seventh go-round in 35 years.

Then there are the liabilities of his lineage. The conservative base came to regard George W. Bush as a Big Government Republican, a profligate spender who ran up big deficits, passed now-unpopular policies like No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D and presided during the greatest economic crash since the Depression. Many presume Jeb is much the same. And polls and party operatives agree that in the coming battle against Clinton, the party would benefit from a fresh face.

Few people outside Florida know much about Jeb, and his advisers acknowledge that the campaign’s success may hinge on its ability to distinguish the new family man from the Bushes who have preceded him. (It is no accident that the candidate’s signage and swag don’t include his last name.)

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