The dy­nas­tic ri­valry of Ge­orge and Jeb Bush

Their com­plex re­la­tion­ship plays out on world stage

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Mark Z. Barabak

MI­AMI — When Jeb Bush was born, his big brother didn’t ex­actly celebrate the news.

“As a kid, Ge­orge viewed him as a com­pletely un­nec­es­sary ad­di­tion to the fam­ily,” John El­lis, a Bush cousin, re­counted years later. “Jeb­bie was just a pain.... I think that car­ried on for a long time.”

Sib­ling re­la­tions can be fraught, a tan­gle of love, envy and com­pas­sion. In that way, Jeb and Ge­orge W. Bush — sep­a­rated by nearly seven years and vastly dif­fer­ent life ex­pe­ri­ences — are no dif­fer­ent than any other set of broth­ers.

But they are, of course, like no other: As part of a po­lit­i­cal dy­nasty, their dra­mas play out for the world to watch, their per­sonal history en­twined with that of their coun­try.

As he strives to be­come the third mem­ber of his fam­ily to win the White House, Jeb Bush bears the bless­ings as well as the bur­dens of that her­itage and, es­pe­cially, the legacy of his brother, who left the pres­i­dency a scant 61⁄

2 years ago amid an un­pop­u­lar war and the near-col­lapse of the U.S. econ­omy.

Con­flat­ing the two, how­ever, masks a more com­plex re­la­tion­ship, marked by

fierce ri­valry, wounded feel­ings and long pe­ri­ods of es­trange­ment. Though they share the same po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy — both are more con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans than their fa­ther, Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush — they have never been per­son­ally close.

Stylis­ti­cally, they stand poles apart: Ge­orge W. Bush, 68, out­go­ing and gre­gar­i­ous, us­ing gut in­stinct as a guide; Jeb Bush, 62, in­tro­verted, data-driven and hap­pi­est bur­row­ing in the nooks of a brief­ing book.

Ron Kauf­man, an old fam­ily friend, re­mem­bers see­ing the pair once at a black-tie din­ner, where Ge­orge W. Bush, then Texas gover­nor, was in his back­slap­ping el­e­ment. Jeb Bush, Florida’s new gover­nor, was po­litely pleas­ant “but his eyes were say­ing he’d rather be back in Tal­la­has­see,” Kauf­man re­called, “work­ing on the state bud­get.”

One con­stant, though, has been loy­alty, to the fam­ily cause and each another.

Jeb Bush’s most po­lit­i­cally dif­fi­cult mo­ments of the 2016 cam­paign sur­round his fum­bling re­sponse when asked whether he sup­ported the Iraq war his brother started. Bush took sev­eral days, shap­ing and re­shap­ing his an­swer, be­fore f latly declar­ing that, in ret­ro­spect, the in­va­sion should never have taken place.

A few days later, it was news when Bush took is­sue with his brother’s fis­cal poli­cies, sug­gest­ing he should have been quicker to wield his veto pen. “He could have brought bud­get dis­ci­pline to Washington, D.C.,” Bush said.

Such public breaches, how­ever, are ex­tremely rare.

“I love my mom and dad,” Bush re­cently told a New Hamp­shire au­di­ence. (He some­times pre­empts ques­tions about fam­ily and fealty by speak­ing up be­fore asked.) “I love my brother, and peo­ple are just go­ing to have to get over that. That’s just the way it is.”

The sen­ti­ment, how­ever, was not al­ways re­cip­ro­cated.

“When they were young, Jeb was some­body for Ge­orge to tor­ture,” their cousin, El­lis, re­counted in the 2004 book “The Bushes: Por­trait of a Dy­nasty.”

As adults, the two grew even fur­ther apart. One ad­vi­sor to Ge­orge W. Bush’s 2000 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign re­calls him rolling his eyes when his brother chimed in on con­fer­ence calls, sug­gest­ing if they weren’t re­lated they would prob­a­bly have noth­ing to do with each other.

From early on the broth­ers forged strik­ingly dif­fer­ent paths.

Ge­orge W. Bush fol­lowed his fa­ther’s route through New Eng­land prep school and Yale, where he was an unim­pres­sive stu­dent. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing, he ea­gerly par­took of bach­e­lor life in Hous­ton — “I was a spir­ited lad,” he later said with wry un­der­state­ment — and spent more than a decade knock­ing about the oil busi­ness, with mid­dling suc­cess. Bush was mar­ried with twin daugh­ters when he fi­nally quit drink­ing, af­ter a 40th birth­day bash that was a haze, save for the hang­over.

John El­lis Bush, by con­trast, breezed through the Univer­sity of Texas in 21⁄ years, mar­ried at age 21 and moved to Florida, partly be­cause of the so­cial os­tracism faced by his wife, Columba, a na­tive of Mexico. He be­came a fa­ther at 23 — the cou­ple have three chil­dren — and grew rich in Mi­ami’s boom­ing real es­tate busi­ness. In the early 1980s, he be­came ac­tive in state Repub­li­can pol­i­tics, helped along by the Bush name; his fa­ther was then vice pres­i­dent un­der Ron­ald Rea­gan.

The year 1994 was piv­otal for both broth­ers.

Jeb Bush was run­ning for Florida gover­nor when Ge­orge W., by then an ex­ec­u­tive with the Texas Rangers base­ball team, un­ex­pect­edly launched an up­hill bid for gover­nor of his home state. Jeb Bush made no se­cret of his dis­plea­sure, grip­ing that his brother’s Texas can­di­dacy turned their twin cam­paigns into a “cute Peo­ple mag­a­zine story.”

Jeb — the sober, du­ti­ful son — has al­ways been the one ex­pected to as­sume the Bush po­lit­i­cal man­tle. Ge­orge W. was good for laughs, but not a lot more. It was a shock then, both in­side the fam­ily and out, when Jeb lost his race and Ge­orge W. won. The lat­ter kept ea­ger track of the com­pe­ti­tion with his sib­ling, check­ing the pri­vate Florida polling each morn­ing to see where his race stood com­pared with his brother’s.

On elec­tion night, Ge­orge W. was struck that his par­ents seemed more up­set about Jeb’s loss than happy for his vic­tory. “Why do you feel bad about Jeb?” he asked his fa­ther dur­ing a phone call that has be­come po­lit­i­cal lore. “Why don’t you feel good about me?”

Still, four years later, Bush ral­lied to help his de­mor­al­ized brother win a sec­ond try for Florida gover­nor, tap­ping his Texas fundrais­ing base and school­ing his sup­pos­edly more as­tute sib­ling.

“There is a great les­son of hu­mil­ity ... that Ge­orge has shown to his great pop­u­lar ben­e­fit,” Jeb Bush told the Dal­las Morn­ing News be­fore win­ning his 1998 race. “The abil­ity to share credit, to in- clude ev­ery­body, to make a point to talk to peo­ple who didn’t sup­port him. That’s a use­ful les­son in gov­er­nance, but it also ap­plies to cam­paigns.”

The evo­lu­tion of the broth­ers’ re­la­tion­ship, from con­de­scen­sion to grudg­ing re­spect, re­calls that of another fa­mous pair of dy­nas­tic off­spring, John F. Kennedy and his younger brother Robert. The older Kennedy spent much of his life dis­miss­ing his sib­ling — he ap­pointed him at­tor­ney gen­eral largely to ap­pease their fa­ther — un­til they forged a strong bond dur­ing the cru­cible of the Cuban mis­sile cri­sis.

The trial that drew the Bush broth­ers closer was the 2000 Florida re­count, in which Jeb played an im­por­tant be­hind-the-scenes role help­ing de­liver the elec­toral votes that put Ge­orge W. Bush in the White House. Among Jeb’s first steps was en­sur­ing that his brother locked up the top le­gal tal­ent in the state, ham­per­ing Demo­crat Al Gore in the rush to the court­house.

When Ge­orge W. Bush was pres­i­dent, Jeb mostly muf­fled their dif­fer­ences, though he did speak out against a plan to ex­pand oil drilling off the Florida coast — it was sharply cut back — and chal­lenged as­pects of the pres­i­dent’s No Child Left Be­hind ed­u­ca­tion ini­tia­tive. A rare so­cial visi­tor to the White House, Jeb nonethe­less ben­e­fited dur­ing his 2002 re­elec­tion cam­paign from a steady flow of fed­eral dol­lars to Florida and a pa­rade of Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion lu­mi­nar­ies.

Two years later, with Ge­orge W. seek­ing a sec­ond term and Florida once more in play, Jeb laid low rather than hurt his brother by risk­ing an as­so­ci­a­tion with his po­lit­i­cal prob­lems. The pres­i­dent car­ried Florida easily.

Their in­ter­ac­tions re­flect a pat­tern: What­ever hos­til­i­ties or hard feel­ings built up, the two have been there for each other in their times of po­lit­i­cal need, pub­licly when it suited them but, more of­ten, in less ob­vi­ous fash­ion.

It is an ar­range­ment, say those fa­mil­iar with Bush fam­ily dy­nam­ics, that will prob­a­bly per­sist.

“Sib­ling ri­valry aside, blood is thicker than wa­ter,” said David Beck­with, who worked in the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Ge­orge H.W. Bush, where he got to know both broth­ers. “W. will do what­ever he can to help. In­clud­ing be­ing in­vis­i­ble, if need be.”

‘When they were young, Jeb was some­body for Ge­orge to tor­ture.’

— John El­lis, their cousin, in ‘The Bushes:

Por­trait of a Dy­nasty’

Ge­orge H.W. Bush Pres­i­den­tial Li­brar y and Mu­seum

“GE­ORGE VIEWED [Jeb, right] as a com­pletely un­nec­es­sary ad­di­tion to the fam­ily,” a cousin says of the broth­ers, out­side their home in Mid­land, Texas.

Luke Frazza Agence France-Presse

JEB AND Ge­orge W. Bush in 2002. De­spite ap­pear­ances at times, they were never close.

Getty Im­ages

GE­ORGE H.W. BUSH in 1970 with his four sons, from left: Neil, Jeb, Ge­orge W. and Marvin. Jeb was more se­ri­ous than his older brother, and was the one ex­pected to as­sume the Bush po­lit­i­cal man­tle.

J. Pat Carter As­so­ci­ated Press

THEN-PRES­I­DENT Ge­orge W. Bush and then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in 2002. Jeb worked be­hind the scenes to help his brother win Florida’s dis­puted 2000 vote.

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