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Barbara Bush Hits The Trail For Son Jeb Bush

Barbara Bush jokes with her son, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, while introducing him at a town hall meeting in Derry, N.H.
Jacquelyn Martin
Barbara Bush jokes with her son, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, while introducing him at a town hall meeting in Derry, N.H.

In a year where so many Republican voters are angry at Washington, it can be tough to have two former presidents in your family.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has struggled with that dynamic his entire campaign — sometimes embracing the Bush legacy, and sometimes holding it at arm's length. (The campaign logo is Jeb!, not Bush!)

Bush has now decided to fully lean into his family's 12 years in the White House. Former President George W. Bush just cut an ad for a Bush-affiliated superPAC. On Thursday night in Derry, N.H., former first lady Barbara Bush joined Jeb on the campaign trail.

Barbara Bush spoke only for about a minute and a half, but she lavished praise on a son who seems like he could use it. Bush is lagging in the polls, his one-time mentee Marco Rubio is surging and Republican voters just don't seem that interested in government experience this year.

"I didn't really plan on this," Barbara Bush said. "But Jeb is the nicest, wisest, most caring, loyal, disciplined," she said, adding, "Not by me!" when the audience laughed.

"But he's not a bragger," she said. "We don't allow that."

"He's decent and honest. He's everything we need as a president," she said. "His dad and I are very, very proud of him."

Bush has hovered around 10 percent in New Hampshire polls, in a clump alongside Govs. John Kasich and Chris Christie, as well as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Like his father and brother before him, he's had his spell of campaign trail gaffes, including a moment this week when he implored a silent audience to applaud.

Thursday night's overflow crowd clearly energized Bush and his campaign. Staffers were gushing to each other about the turnout before the event began, and Bush spoke and answered questions for more than an hour. "Mom, my crowd sizes aren't normally this large," Bush quipped. "I wonder why."

But while the audience was quick to heap applause on Barbara Bush, several Republicans in the crowd seemed wary of a fourth Bush term. "I've supported his father; I supported George twice," said Bill Manning. "And, you know, it's probably just a name — I'm not going to support the Bushes — I don't think I'm going to support the Bushes anymore."

Manning says he's specifically looking for a nonestablishment candidate this year. "Listen, I'm 73," he said. "I've been voting for a long time. I've listened to their promises for years and years," he said, and then seen the same problems crop up again in the next election.

Manning is thinking about voting for Donald Trump, though he says he's turned off by "his bellicose attitude, his smirky attitude and his name-calling."

Bush has to walk a tricky line with voters like Manning. He owns up to the "establishment" label at every campaign event now, saying it comes with the territory of being "Barbara Bush's son."

"I'm proud of my dad. I'm proud of my brother. I'm proud of being a Bush," he told the Derry crowd. "But like all families, we're a little different, each one of us. I don't think – if you have a sister or a brother you're probably not the same. We're all a little different."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
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