DALLAS (Reuters) - Never mind the potential for name fatigue. Former U.S. President George W. Bush likes the idea of a 2016 presidential matchup between his Republican brother Jeb Bush and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
In an interview as part of the rollout of a book he has written about his father, former President George H.W. Bush, Bush said he is urging Jeb to try to make it three Bush presidents.
Jeb Bush, 61, is a former two-term governor of Florida who is considering entering the Republican presidential nomination race for 2016 and says he’ll make up his mind by year’s end.
“He’s had the experience necessary to be president. He understands what it means to be a leader. He can appeal to different voter groups in an attractive way,” George W. Bush told Reuters. “He’s got vision,” said Bush, adding, that if Jeb decides to run, “I’m all in” with helping him.
Any concerns Americans might have about a third president named Bush would be tempered by the presence of Hillary Clinton in the race, since her husband, Bill Clinton, served two terms as president, said Bush.
“There are some people that’ll say there’s no way I’m going to vote for somebody with that name,” said Bush. “Of course if he were to run against Hillary Clinton then I think the name issue would somewhat dissipate and then people would pick which one would be the leader. But neither one of them has declared and I really don’t know if Jeb is going to run.”
Hillary Clinton, who lost the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 and went on to serve as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, is favored to win the party’s nomination if she tries again for the White House. She has said she will make up her mind early next year.
In the interview, conducted on Friday at the George W. Bush presidential library in Dallas, the former president, 68, was more willing to talk about current events than he has been in the years since he left the White House in early 2009.
He expressed concern about the rise of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria and said he backs Obama’s goal of destroying the group.
“I’m hopeful that it works. If it doesn’t the administration is going to need to adjust,” Bush said.
The former president was relaxed and at ease with his place in history. He left office with a 34 percent approval rating from Americans weary of the Iraq war he launched in 2003 and struggling under a collapsing economy.
Now, as many former presidents experience, he is looked on more fondly. A Gallup poll last June said he was viewed favorably by 53 percent of Americans.
Bush shrugged when asked about his improved image.
“There’s a long reach to history and people will analyze the decisions I made for a long time coming, and it will be in context with other presidents and other decisions,” he said.Sticking to his pledge not to criticize Obama, Bush said the only thing that surprised him about Republican victories in last week’s midterm elections was how many there were.
As far as Obama’s struggles in his sixth year in office, Bush said Republican President Ronald Reagan had similarly crushing midterm results in 1986. Bush did not mention the thumping he suffered in the 2006 elections in his own sixth year in office, when Democrats captured control of Congress.
“I have a theory that after six years or seven years or eight years they (voters) kind of get tired of you no matter who are you. And given all the exposure a president gets these days people begin to say, well, when’s the next person going to show up? It was certainly my case. And presidents shouldn’t take that personally,” he said.
The book, “41 - A Portrait of My Father,” is a heartfelt tribute to his 90-year-old father, who is confined to a wheelchair and whose memory, Bush writes, has faded.
He charts the elder Bush’s career from Texas oilman to Republican president who considered not seeking re-election in 1992 because of the toil on his family. He describes how his father was believed to be on his death bed with pneumonia two years ago, but survived and went on a parachute jump for his 90th birthday.
But the book is revealing about George W. Bush himself. Bush, who published a memoir called “Decision Points” in 2010, again defends his controversial war in Iraq, pushing back against critics who feel he had a go-it-alone strategy, noting that he assembled a substantial coalition against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 2003, just like his father did against Saddam in 1990-91.
“For the sake of our security and the Iraqi people, I hope we will do what it takes to defeat ISIS and allow Iraq’s democratic government a chance to succeed,” he writes.
Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Frances Kerry