The imminent end of the Bush political dynasty

April 6, 2022

The Hill

By Mark P. Jones

The Bush name was once synonymous with Texas Republican politics. From George H.W. Bush’s eight years as vice president (1981-89) and four years as president (1989-93) to George W. Bush’s six years as governor of Texas (1994-2000) and eight years as president (2001-2009), no family comes close to matching the Bush family’s gravitas and influence within Texas Republican politics during this period.

In fact, many date the Texas GOP’s final ascent to majority status to George W. Bush’s defeat of Ann Richards in the 1994 gubernatorial election, landslide re-election in 1998 and successful presidential bid in 2000. The last time a Democrat won a statewide election in Texas was in 1994, and since the 2002 election Republicans have controlled both chambers of the Texas Legislature, all due in large part to the groundwork laid by George H.W. Bush and, especially, by George W. Bush.

Today, the standard bearer of the Bush family political legacy in the Lone Star State, Land Commissioner George P. Bush (George H.W. Bush’s grandson and George W. Bush’s nephew), is on track to lose in a landslide to embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton in the May 24 Republican primary runoff for attorney general. A late March Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation (TxHPF) survey projects Bush will receive only between a fifth and a third of the GOP primary vote in May.

The Bush name, once an asset within the Texas GOP electorate, is now a liability. As an example, take the two-fifths of Republican primary voters who in the March TxHPF survey adamantly said they would never under any circumstance vote for George P. Bush. When asked why, two-thirds of these Republicans said it is because he is a member of the Bush family.

Today, the favorites of the most reliable Texas GOP primary voters are named Trump, Cruz and Abbott, not Bush. In the TxHPF survey, nine out of 10 (90 percent) of these Texas Republican primary voters have a favorable opinion of former President Donald Trump (70 percent have a very favorable opinion), 89 percent a favorable opinion of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (54 percent very favorable) and 88 percent a favorable opinion of Sen. Ted Cruz (65 percent very favorable).

In sharp contrast, only 49 percent of these same diehard Texas Republicans have a favorable opinion of George W. Bush (18 percent very favorable) and 29 percent a favorable opinion of George P. Bush’s father, former Florida governor Jeb Bush (5 percent very favorable). George P. Bush is the most popular Bush among these Texas Republicans, but even he is viewed favorably by only 51 percent (14 percent very favorable).

And while a mere one in 10 of these Texas Republicans hold an unfavorable opinion of Trump (10 percent), Abbott (11 percent) and Cruz (11 percent), roughly one-half hold an unfavorable opinion of Jeb Bush (57 percent) and George W. Bush (46 percent), and two-fifths view George P. Bush (42 percent) unfavorably.

Between his great grandfather Prescott Bush’s election as U.S. senator in Connecticut in 1952 and George Prescott Bush’s reelection as Texas land commissioner in 2018, no family comes close to occupying the pinnacles of power in America for as long as the Bush family. One of its members has served as president for 12 years, as vice president for eight years, as Florida governor for eight years, as Texas governor for six years, as U.S. senator for 10 years, as a U.S. representative for  four years and as Texas land commissioner for eight years.

But on May 24 George P. Bush’s defeat in the Texas GOP attorney general primary runoff will mark the end, at least for the time being, of a political dynasty dating back 70 years. And the Bush dynasty will be extinguished not by Democrats, but rather by Texas Republicans, who once considered George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush to be their favorite sons. But in 2022, they will be responsible for ending the political career of George P. Bush, the last politically active Bush family member.

Mark P. Jones is the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy’s fellow in political science and the Joseph D. Jamail chair in Latin American Studies at Rice University as well as a co-author of “Texas Politics Today.” Follow him on Twitter @MarkPJonesTX.