Jeb’s brazen cash grab: His “I’m my own man” campaign crumbles in face of big fundraiser with W.

Forced to choose between establishing his independence and cashing in on family ties? Bush will take the dollars

By Joan Walsh

Published March 25, 2015 3:29PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Jim Young/Rebecca Cook/Photo montage by Salon)
(Reuters/Jim Young/Rebecca Cook/Photo montage by Salon)

It’s not surprising that Jeb Bush is raising money off the political ties of his brother, former president George W. Bush. It’s a little surprising he’s doing it this early. But on Wednesday night, the brothers will come together at a Dallas fundraiser hosted by a longtime W. pal. Invitations asked $100,000 per couple, in personal donations or commitments to bundle, according to Politico.

That’s a little brazen. After all, Bush is said to believe a central challenge for his 2016 candidacy will be to differentiate himself from his brother, the former president, and to a lesser extent his father. There are lots of reasons: Many voters don’t like the idea of a Bush dynasty. And specifically, many voters don’t like George W. Bush. Although his approval rating has climbed since he left office – voters also don’t like disliking their former presidents – the economic and foreign policy legacy of Bush 43 still represent potential baggage for his brother’s campaign.

Bush got high marks for facing down that challenge early and often, including in his first big speech on foreign policy last month. Though it wasn’t included in prepared text distributed to reporters, Bush apparently free-styled a riff about loving his father and brother while declaring “I’m my own man.” The Fix’s Chris Cilizza, among others, loved it: “Assuming the Bush folks did this on purpose — and I am very strongly suspicious that they did — then it’s a very smart strategic move.”

He’d said something similar in his economic speech in Detroit two weeks before:

If I have any degree of self-awareness, this would be the place where it might want to be applied. I love my brother. I think he’s been a great president. It doesn’t bother me a bit to be proud of them and love them, but I know for a fact that if I’m going to be successful … then I’m going to have to do it on my own.

That was then. “Do it on my own” was just so February. As was “self-awareness,” apparently.

Does Bush really believe he’s convinced the doubters so quickly, that he can afford to stage a major fundraiser with his brother before he’s even declared his candidacy? Or do he and his advisors believe the risks of association with the former president(s) have been overstated? Whatever the answer, clearly he’s weighed the potential costs, and they’re outweighed by the benefits of his brother’s fundraising machine.

Frankly, I’ve always thought most people overestimate the costs of being a Bush to Jeb, when they do that cost-benefit analysis. “If his name was Jeb Brown instead of Jeb Bush, he’d be the front-runner,” Haley Barbour once laughably remarked. Of course if his name was Jeb Brown, we’d likely never have heard it.

Holding a high-profile Dallas fundraiser with his brother before he’s even declared shows an odd combination of arrogance and desperation. He apparently believes the party elite doesn’t have a better choice, so they’ll tolerate a little hubris. Yet he also seems to think winning the GOP nomination requires amassing a war chest so formidable he can scare potential rivals out of the race before it begins.

Either way, Republican primary voters may not be impressed by the entitlement that emanates from this latest Bush maneuver.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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2016 Elections Fundraising George W. Bush Haley Barbour Jeb Bush Republican Party