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George W. Bush, Invoking Father, Urges Jeb to Run

Former President George W. Bush used an event designed to promote a new book to give his brother Jeb a boost. Invoking his father, Bush said: "I can speak for 41 when I say this. He ought to run for president, and he would be a great president should he win.”

Former President George W. Bush tells a story about his father at Texas A&M University on Nov. 11, 2014.

COLLEGE STATION — Former President George W. Bush, invoking what he said were the wishes of his 90-year-old father, on Tuesday practically begged his brother Jeb to run for president.

“I can speak for 41 when I say this,” Bush said, referring to his father, George H.W. Bush, the 41st United States president. “He ought to run for president, and he would be a great president should he win.”

Bush, who was at his father’s presidential library to promote a new book he’s written about him, was careful to say that his brother, the former governor of Florida (and father of Texas Land Commissioner-elect George P. Bush) was “making a very personal decision” and could not be pressured into following his sibling and father into a White House run.

But the 43rd president pointedly shot down one of the misgivings his brother has aired publicly: that going back and forth between Bushes and Clintons (first Bill, and now possibly Hillary) highlighted a potentially worrisome trend.

“I heard him say he doesn’t like the idea of a political class, the idea of Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Bush,” the former president said. “I said, 'Well, how does this sound? Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Clinton.” 

The crowd inside the auditorium at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum erupted in laughter and applause.

“The point is you don’t get to pick the environment in which you run,” Bush added.

The 41st president, who now uses a wheelchair, entered the auditorium at his presidential library before the event began and took a seat next to his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush. He waved to the crowd and received a sustained standing ovation. After a serious health scare in 2012, George H.W. Bush has given up speaking engagements, so Tuesday was a rare public sighting. 

George W. Bush said he was inspired to write a book about his father after learning that the last son to follow his father into the White House — John Quincy Adams — had never written a biography of John Adams, robbing history of valuable insight that only a person in that situation could deliver.

The younger Bush acknowledges in the author’s note at the front of the book that he is not attempting to offer an objective view of his father. He calls the tome a “love story — a personal portrait of the extraordinary man who I am blessed to call my dad.”

Tuesday's discussion of Bush’s new book also came off as something of a love story. It was conducted by his former chief of staff, Andrew Card, who didn’t exactly grill his former boss on stage about the controversies associated with his, or his father’s, presidency. 

But there were some revealing moments.

When speaking of his victory over Democrat Ann Richards in the 1994 governor’s race, George W. Bush said he does not believe he would have won had his father won his re-election race in 1992.

“I could not have run for governor had he been re-elected,” Bush said. “Imagine trying to beat a popular incumbent, and I would have been spending as much time if not most of the time defending decisions he made or distancing myself from decisions he made.” 

“In an interesting way, his defeat empowered both Jeb and me to run for office,” Bush added. (Jeb Bush lost his 1994 race for Florida governor but was elected in a do-over in 1998.) 

The younger ex-president also spoke of his father’s unusually warm friendship with Bill Clinton, the man who made him a one-term president. He said Clinton, whose father died in car accident before he was born, came to treat the elder Bush as a “father figure.” 

Then Card asked Bush if that relationship had transferred to him. 

“He calls me W and I call him Bubba,” Bush said of Clinton. “We get along fine.” He said the only two baby boomer presidents had a lot in common.

“We were both governors of Southern, Southwestern states. We both like retail politics. We both can talk a lot,” he said. “We both are members of this very exclusive club. And we both love George H.W. Bush.”

For a state and nation that hasn’t seen “W” out in public much, Tuesday’s event provided a candid and humorous glimpse of the often disarming cut-up who occupied the White House for eight years. Noting that his promotional event was part of a “distinguished author series,” Bush joked, “I don’t qualify.”

He also told the audience about the time his mother confronted him after discovering that he had taken up a nasty habit when he was 18.

“'I discovered an ash tray under your bed. You smoke!'” she told him, he said. “Dad looked at her and said, ‘So do you.’ And that was the end of the conversation.”

For years, Bush critics suggested that he wasn’t intellectually fit to be president, and 43 — who got his undergraduate degree from Yale and an MBA from Harvard — leaned into the reputation Tuesday. 

Praising his father’s quick entry into the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa academic society while he was at Yale, Bush quipped, “That part of the gene pool got diluted.”

Disclosure: Texas A&M University is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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