WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Jeb Bush has played down his famous family roots in his pursuit of the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, but with his campaign in trouble, he turned on Monday to brother George W. Bush for a political morale boost.
The former president appeared on stage with his younger brother before an important gathering of Bush donors in Houston, an event that the Bush team sought to use to calm jittery supporters alarmed by his months-long slide in the polls.
The Houston event was George W. Bush’s first public campaign appearance for his brother, who is seeking the Republican nomination for the November 2016 presidential election. It marked a shift from Jeb Bush’s use of his brother strictly for closed-door fund-raising events.
George W. offered a strong testimonial for his brother, saying he would score well with Latino voters because of his welcoming stance on immigration. And he said Jeb would be prepared for unexpected challenges like he faced in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“I am absolutely certain given his background and his steadiness that he’d be able to deal with the unexpected,” said George W., according to a media pool report from the event.
The two men, sitting side by side on stage, offered chummy thoughts about growing up together. George W. poked fun at the cooking of their mother, Barbara Bush, as little more than boiling hot dogs.
“I remember it differently,” said Jeb.
“Yeah, you’re running for office,” joked George W.
Since many of Jeb Bush’s financial supporters were also backers of the two other Bush presidents and hold them in high regard, the presence of George W. Bush and their father George H.W. Bush at the two-day Houston event was a major selling point.
But wrapping himself tightly in the family mantle carries risks for Jeb Bush. Many Republicans want their next president to not be a third Bush, and some harbor resentment at George W. Bush for launching the Iraq war in 2003.
“Jeb is looking to strike a very careful balance, keeping the supporters of both his father’s and his brother’s campaigns embraced while not alienating folks that aren’t very enthusiastic about a third Bush run,” said Republican strategist Katie Packer, a senior aide to 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
The Houston event marked what amounts to a new phase in the Bush campaign, coming days after his team announced deep cuts in payroll and staff to cope with slowing donations in response to challenges from outsider candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson.
Senior campaign aides laid out for the donors their case for why Bush can make it despite stiff headwinds. They stressed that the Republican battle, currently led by Trump and Carson, remains volatile and that Bush has the organizational strength to carry him to victory.
As part of the new phase, Bush next week will launch a “Jeb Can Fix It” tour to emphasize his record as a conservative reformer when he was governor of Florida.
The trip will include his first bus tour of the 2016 campaign, a two-day trip through New Hampshire.
Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Cynthia Osterman