Miami Herald (Sunday)
For GOP, there’s no escaping Trump’s influence
He carries what once was one of the best brands in the Republican Party and is the offspring of a political dynasty that held sway for decades. Somehow that illustrious history doesn’t seem to matter to George P. Bush as he tries to climb the political ladder in Texas.
Bush is the grandson and nephew of presidents.
His father, Jeb Bush, served as governor of Florida and not incidentally lost the 2016 GOP presidential nomination to Donald Trump. There was no mention of any of them in Bush’s campaign announcement video, released Wednesday. Instead, it featured clips of Trump and praise for the former president.
Bush currently serves as Texas land commissioner. He now wants to become the attorney general. That office is occupied by another Republican: scandalplagued Ken Paxton.
When he formally declared his intention to challenge Paxton in next year’s GOP primary, Bush made clear, name aside, that he’s running as a Trump acolyte.
Bush’s announcement was one illustration of how Trump still looms over the party and tortures prospective GOP candidates, particularly those who have roots in and connections with traditional Republican politics, ties that in some cases predate Trump’s arrival on the political stage.
In New Hampshire, there was another example: Former Vice President Mike Pence appeared at a county Republican dinner Thursday night in Manchester. What got much of the attention was his statement of disagreement with Trump over the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, a day when Pence was rushed to safety as the mob stormed the Capitol, with some of the marauders chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.”
On Thursday night, Pence called Jan. 6 “a dark day in the history of the Capitol,” praising law enforcement officers for quelling the attack and allowing lawmakers to finish ratifying the certification of President Biden’s electoral college victory over Trump. Pence presided over the proceedings, though Trump had urged him to try to block what he could not block.
“You know, President Trump and I have spoken many times since we left office,” Pence told his Republican audience. “And I don’t know if we’ll ever see eye to eye on that day.”
That was the headline, but more of what Pence said kept him closely tied to the former president. Immediately after saying he and Trump will never be on the same page about Jan. 6, he said, “But I will always be proud of what we accomplished for the American people over the last four years.”
However dark Jan. 6 may have been in his estimation, he also tried to turn the day against the Democrats. “I will not allow Democrats or their allies in the media to use one tragic day to discredit the aspirations of millions of Americans,” he said. “Or allow Democrats or their allies in the media to distract our attention from a new administration intent on dividing our country to advance their radical agenda.”
Pence was selected as Trump’s running mate because he offered a connection to the conservative wing of the Republican Party. He also came out of traditional Republican politics. But should he become a presidential candidate in 2024, Pence has little room to create his own identity. As his speech in New Hampshire showed, his disagreements with Trump will be modest at best.
Bush, however, is in a different place. He is a rising conservative politician whose path could take him even higher than the attorney general’s office in the Lone Star State. But first he must get past the incumbent. He wants Trump’s endorsement, but the calculation he may be making is that he must do whatever he can to prevent Trump from endorsing his opponent – never mind that Trump belittled his father, attacked his uncle and that the Bush family has held the 45th president in low regard.
Trump has played coy on an endorsement in the Texas attorney general primary, and Bush’s video was an open appeal to the former president to give him a boost. Speaking over a clip of Trump with a raised fist, Bush says, “Under the leadership of President Trump, our country was strong and vibrant again.” At another point, he says, “Like President Trump, I will not sit idly by while our freedoms are under attack, because Texas must lead the way in fighting this radical agenda.”
Most younger politicians pay at least lip service to what they have learned from parents, grandparents or other relatives. Bush’s video ignores that history in favor of seeking Trump’s blessing. But this isn’t the first time the younger Bush has appeared skittish about his family ties as he has seen the Texas Republican Party abandon the compassionate conservatism of George W. Bush for something more radical.
When he was running for land commissioner in 2014, he was interviewed at the Texas Tribune Festival and called himself a “Reagan Republican.” He acknowledged that he had described Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as the future of the GOP when Cruz first ran for the Senate. Asked that night whether he would endorse Cruz for president in 2016, he demurred. Then asked whether he would endorse his father, he declined to say he would (though later he did).
Some Republicans with future aspirations have gone all in with Trump. Cruz, another prospective 2024 presidential candidate is one. So is Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri.
Other Republicans, like Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming or former
House speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, have broken openly with Trump, calling for a future GOP free of Trump’s influence.