Can Barbara Bush help Jeb in New Hampshire?
Jeb Bush is expected to call on his former First Lady mother during a campaign stop in New Hampshire Thursday, perhaps hoping to invigorate Republicans with a reminder about what is best from the Bush family.
James Nielsen/Houston Chronicle/AP/File
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush plans to campaign in New Hampshire with what could be a bulletproof tactic – introduce his mother.
Barbara Bush is set to talk with voters alongside her son at a town hall meeting in Derry, N.H., Thursday night, Kenneth Walsh reported for US News & World Report.
Mr. Bush hopes voters will associate his famous last name with his mother rather than his still-controversial older brother, former President George W. Bush, says Doug Wead, historian and author of "All the President's Children," in an e-mail.
"Barbara Bush is the most popular Bush and a reminder of what is good about the family," Mr. Wead says. "She is not threatening to people and has a deadly, mischievous wit."
People generally claim families do not impact the voting outcome, Wead says, but in a close race, everything matters, so meeting the parents can provide the crucial emotional tie that pushes a voter over the edge. "It is harder to vote against someone with whom you identify," Wead says. "And when they are seen as a son, a father, a spouse, a brother, it is easier to identify with them and their journey."
Most polls show that Jeb Bush is in fourth place, with Donald Trump leading the Republican contenders. But one poll has Bush in second place, if 17 points behind.
The former first lady's appearance will be another on-the-record recall of her comments on NBC's "Today" show years before the race, when she suggested her younger son need not attempt to run for president.
"He’s by far the best-qualified man, but no. I really don’t," she said. "I think it’s a great country, there are a lot of great families, and it’s not just four families or whatever. There are other people out there that are very qualified, and we’ve had enough Bushes."
Her other prognostication that day, "He’ll get all our enemies and half our friends," having proved true, she is apparently coming in for an official correction. One thing is certain – if she's coming, it's because she wants to be there, wrote Peter Grier for The Christian Science Monitor:
Nobody pushes Barbara Bush into doing something she’s not interested in. To the contrary – she’s the Bush clan enforcer, as well as its matriarch . . . The American people have long approved of this kind of bluntness. Most first ladies are well-liked, according to polls, but Barbara Bush has a good claim on the title of most-popular modern presidential spouse.
Her inclusion may have a tactical advantage as well. The most recent Republican debate on Jan. 29 demonstrated one key obstacle that's been holding the former Florida governor back – and it starts with a "T" and rhymes with "thump."
If that is true, then bringing in Mrs. Bush could neutralize that threat. Donald Trump may be unscrupulous in his attacks on fellow candidates, but mud-slinging at mothers would break a taboo even at the current level of public discourse.
So far, Trump has tweeted that Bush can't bring his "mommy" along to help deal with terrorists.
"It shows how idiotic Trump is," Bush responded, according to US News. "You don't negotiate with terrorists. You take 'em out."
Even if she can keep Trump at bay long enough for her son to run the "joyful" campaign he has wanted, can she pass along an approval rating that Gallup pegged at 67 percent?
"He is hoping that the voter will say, 'Yes his brother got us into a mess, but my own brother makes some mistakes too, and I must admit, his mom is a great lady,'" Wead says.