Scholars of Texas politics said the Bush name can still be a plus in the state, but also saw Trump’s endorsement as a big prize in the GOP primary for attorney general, where George P. Bush will face incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton. Paxton is staunchly pro-Trump and last year filed a lawsuit trying to overturn election results, fueling baseless claims of widespread fraud.
“This will be a close race with a very conservative primary electorate,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. Trump’s approval will be “a big gold belt buckle,” he added.
Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, said that in trying to manage both his family’s reputation and Trump’s now-dominant role, Bush is clearly bending toward Trump.
“You hope not to have to demean yourself in order to [win],” Jillson said. “But if that turns out to be necessary, and you expect to have a political future … you’ve gotta do what you gotta do.”
Bush has aligned himself with Trump before. He got Trump’s endorsement in his reelection campaign for land commissioner amid a crowded primary. In 2019, he joined the president onstage in Texas as Trump declared him “the only Bush who got it right” and “the only Bush who likes me.” Still, 45-year-old Bush’s messaging has left some marveling and resurfaced the bitter history between Trump and prominent conservatives once seen as party leaders.
Bush’s campaign even put the family’s tensions with Trump front-and-center in its swag items, according to a Texas reporter. Scott Braddock posted pictures of a red “George P. Bush for Attorney General” drink koozie featuring a drawing of Trump with Bush and the “This is the Bush that got it right” quote.
Bush’s campaign did not respond Thursday to inquiries about the koozie and Trump’s relationship with the candidate’s family.
Trump has said that Jeb and George W. Bush’s mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, had good reason to dislike him.
“Look what I did to her sons,” he said.
Trump had particular derision for Bush’s father, Jeb Bush, nicknaming him “Low Energy Jeb” as they jockeyed for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. In 2015, Trump took aim at George P. Bush’s mother as well: He tweeted that Jeb Bush “has to like the Mexican Illegals because of his wife,” who immigrated from Mexico. (“This is ludicrous,” Jeb Bush responded at the time).
Trump has also criticized George W. Bush over the Iraq War, and that Bush joined other living ex-presidents this January in denouncing the storming of the Capitol. In a statement, George W. Bush did not name Trump but condemned the politicians who “inflamed” the rioters and said, “This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic — not our democratic republic. I am appalled by the reckless behavior of some political leaders since the election.”
George P. Bush’s family ties have had previous political repercussions: In 2018, Donald Trump Jr. canceled a fundraiser for him after Jeb Bush and former first lady Laura Bush denounced the Trump administration’s separation of migrant families as “heartless” and “immoral.”
“I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel,” Laura Bush had written in a piece for The Washington Post.
George P. Bush’s doubling-down on support for Trump — especially the koozie — drew some derisive reactions. For many, the approach underscored Trump’s sway among Republicans despite his election loss and the divisions he has sown among members of his party.
“George P Bush choosing Trump over his own family in Texas says everything about where the GOP is right now,” tweeted Dan Pfeiffer, the co-host of a political podcast and an ex-adviser to former president Barack Obama.
Bush’s rivals for the attorney general position, on both ends of the political spectrum, weighed in as well.
Paxton won the 2018 attorney general’s race 3.6 percentage points ahead of the Democratic candidate.
In a Thursday interview on Fox, George P. Bush was not asked about Trump’s clashes with his family. He argued that Republicans deserved a choice besides Paxton, who is under investigation. He called himself a conservative advocate for Texas “without the baggage” and said he had used his position as land commissioner to fight “federal overreach.”
His new campaign video for attorney general opens with Bush decrying the “liberal mob in Washington” over footage of the U.S. Capitol, which was literally overrun on Jan. 6 by a mob of Trump supporters upset about the election. Some Republican lawmakers have sought to play down or recast the rioting that forced lawmakers’ evacuations, featured chants of “Hang Mike Pence,” and resulted in five deaths as well as more than a hundred police officers injured.
Bush told the Texas Tribune last month that he does not believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen, as Trump has falsely claimed.
Asked on Fox whether Trump would endorse him, Bush said “we had a great conversation a few days ago.”
“He sent me his best,” Bush said. “He had great words of encouragement.”
Trump recently told CNN that he plans to make an endorsement in the race and likes both Paxton and Bush “very much.”
Colby Itkowitz contributed to this report.