Bush Sr. delivered the news to his hometown newspaper, the Houston Chronicle, calling Romney “the best choice for us.” He also took swipes at two Romney rivals, saying that Perry “doesn’t seem to be going anywhere” and that “I’m not [Newt Gingrich’s] biggest advocate.”
Romney aides were pleased with the news coverage that resulted from the elder Bush’s comments, tying Romney tightly to the Bush family patriarch. Bush Sr., a war hero who devotes time to charity work, is widely popular with the bulk of GOP voters being sought by Romney, notwithstanding dissatisfaction among the party’s conservative base during his presidency. “He’s a wise man who people listen to,” said Tom Rath, a New Hampshire adviser to Romney’s campaign.
The Gingrich campaign did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for Perry, Ray Sullivan, said the governor “has the highest opinion of President George H.W. Bush, his heroic military service, leadership and many years of public service.”
Sullivan added that Perry “has solid, long-standing and friendly relationships with both presidents Bush and former governor Jeb Bush and speaks with them and sees them from time to time.”
‘They come courting’
Jeb, it seems, is the biggest prize of the Bush primary. At 58, he is viewed by many close to the family as the next President Bush.
The two-term Florida governor has spent much of the past year deflecting entreaties to jump into the race from party elders. His suitors thought that his ability to deliver a big battleground state and his appeal among Hispanic voters (he speaks fluent Spanish and his wife is Mexican American) would more than make up for any Bush fatigue among voters.
Meantime, the candidates have seen Jeb Bush as a key figure in winning Florida’s crucial Jan. 31 primary — calling and meeting with him when they can.
“They come courting,” Bush said in an August phone interview with The Washington Post from his Miami office.
The former governor did not respond to requests for comment last week.
Several people close to Bush said they felt he was now less inclined to endorse in the primary.
He is unlikely to opt against his father’s choice of Romney. Yet Bush has publicly warned the candidates to tone down hard-line rhetoric on illegal immigration, and Romney has used a particularly tough tone on this issue to attack rivals from the right.
Romney has told reporters in recent weeks that he had met with Bush to discuss immigration policy. The former Florida governor will co-host a summit in Miami for Hispanic conservatives in late January, just days before the state’s primary.
Bush seems content at the moment playing the role of an above-the-fray policy guru. In a Dec. 19 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal headlined “Capitalism and the Right to Rise,” he blasted government interference in the free market and even acknowledged having “succumbed” at times as governor to frequent demands that he “do something” to respond to problems perhaps better left to work themselves out.
The piece generated more speculation that Bush might be pondering a last-minute entry into the presidential race — speculation that makes his endorsement only more desirable.
Bush’s silence in the primary and his relatives’ decisions could reflect a family strategy to exert influence and hedge its bets — leaving the one member of his generation who may yet find himself on a presidential ticket nominally neutral.
In an August interview with Sayfie, his former aide who publishes the Florida politics site SayfieReview.com, Bush left himself room to play a role.
“I don’t know if endorsements matter, but this is a hugely important election,” he said, adding later: “Given the nature of how important this is, I might get involved.”
He said he was looking for a nominee who would avoid “low-hanging fruit” attacks on Obama and one with the character to withstand the scrutiny of a campaign.
“We want a nominee that’s hopeful and optimistic but also has a titanium spine,” Bush said.