The secret to the Bush family’s longevity in politics was its quickness to move with the country — relocating from New England to Texas to Florida, while shifting from country-club moderates to brush-clearing conservatives, as well as from Episcopalians to born-again evangelicals — as tastes changed.
This is the third defeat Republican voters have handed Bush men since Trump rode down the golden escalator in 2015. Jeb Bush, George P.’s father, ended his 2016 presidential bid after getting 3 percent in Iowa, 11 percent in New Hampshire and 8 percent in South Carolina. Pierce Bush, George P.’s cousin, finished third in 2020 when he ran for an open congressional seat near Houston, failing to even qualify for a runoff.
George P. (for Prescott, of course) was hardly a political novice. The 46-year-old has been buzzed about as a potential future president since he delivered the Pledge of Allegiance at the 1988 Republican National Convention, when his grandfather was nominated for president. “P,” as he was called by the family, was a favorite of the 41st president and was elected Texas land commissioner in 2014 — an office that is more hat than cattle — and was perceived as a comer to watch.
Bush should have won this race and would have if not for the plague of Trumpism. His opponent, Ken Paxton, easily the worst attorney general in America, has been under indictment and awaiting trial for securities fraud since 2015. He faces an unrelated FBI investigation into bribery. Several former aides accuse Paxton of abusing power by helping a real estate developer who hired a woman with whom Paxton was having an extramarital affair. Paxton denies any wrongdoing.
“This race isn’t about my last name,” Bush tweeted recently. “It’s about Ken Paxton’s crimes.”
But Paxton successfully turned the runoff into more of a referendum on the Bush family than his own misconduct by refusing to debate, declining interview requests and skipping forums where he’d face tough questions. Paxton’s secret weapon was his penchant for litigation against the Biden administration. (Paxton filed the lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2020 election results in four swing states. The Supreme Court threw it out.)
“Help me end the Bush Dynasty,” Paxton tweeted last week.
Bush tried to thread the needle between his establishment roots and his Trump-crazed party. For instance, he claimed there was “massive voter fraud” and attacked Paxton for not investigating discrepancies aggressively enough, but he also said he didn’t think it changed the outcome of the 2020 election and that Joe Biden is the legitimate president.
Even though his mother, Columba, was born in Mexico, Bush staked out the hardest line on immigration and won the endorsement of the Border Patrol union. He has pushed Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to declare that Texas is facing an “invasion” at the southern border in a move toward claiming war powers under the Constitution. You can only wonder what the original Prescott Bush, who played golf with Dwight D. Eisenhower and was a supporter of Planned Parenthood, would have made of his great grandson.
Could “P” come back? Of course, his father, his uncle and his grandfather all lost races early in their careers and bounced back to win big — and two of them made it to the White House. But the Bush era in Republican politics likely ended in 2009. That’s when George W. Bush left the White House, and the tea party movement soon developed as a repudiation from the right of his presidency. That movement fed, watered and foreshadowed the Trump era — and a cultural tide among Republicans with which not even the Bush clan could contend.