Will George H.W. Bush biography help – or hurt – Jeb Bush campaign?

The book, titled "Destiny and Power: the American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush," invites the question of whether it will attract new support to Jeb Bush's campaign.

AP Photo/Jim Cole
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush listens during a campaign stop with area law enforcement officers, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015, in Goffstown, N.H.

A new biography of George H.W. Bush, titled “Destiny and Power: the American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush” by Jon Meacham, has re-opened commentary on both the 41st US president and the political legacy he left behind.

It also invites the question of whether the book will help – or hurt – his son’s campaign for the 2016 presidency. The book has been released at a time when Jeb Bush faces steep challenges in the polls, holding just 5.8 precent of possible voters.

Much of the book focuses on the dissatisfaction that the elder Bush felt regarding George W.’s staffing choices: Bush Sr. believed that former vice president Dick Cheney, and secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld, had both misguided his son.

In interviews Jon Meacham did for the book, Bush Sr. said that Mr. Rumsfeld had “served the president badly” and “was an arrogant fellow.” Bush Sr. also expressed his distaste that Dick Cheney was allowed so much freedom to change the State Department.

“The big mistake that was made was letting Cheney bring in kind of his own State Department,” Bush Sr. said. “I think they overdid that. But it’s not Cheney’s fault. It’s [George’s] fault.”

The 41st president commented with some dismay that Mr. Cheney had become more conservative since serving him in office, and that that ideological outlook contributed to shaping the second Bush’s administration in a negative way.

When asked about the elder Bush’s critical comments about him in a recent interview with Fox News, Cheney said, “I’m enjoying the book. I recommend it to my friends. And proud to be a part of it." 

“Bush 41 is getting up in years and misjudges Bush 43, who I found made his own decisions,” Mr. Rumsfeld, who resigned in 2006 amid rising opposition to the Iraq War, said in a statement to NBC News.

Jeb Bush has said publicly that he has not read the book, but remarked, “My thought was that Dick Cheney served my dad really well. And he served as vice-president, he served my brother really well. Different eras. Different times.”

Mr. Meacham's book may be seen as an unwelcome distraction by Jeb's campaign because it takes the conversation away from his presidential plans and into a discussion about decisions that were made 10 or even 20 years ago by his older brother and father.

On the other hand, Jeb has said may be drawing from a similar cast of potential advisors or staffers that previous Bush presidents relied upon, and that does make the records of previous Bush administrations relevant to this campaign.

Jeb Bush has always known that the family name would both assist him (with name recognition and fund raising) but could be a handicap. Yet before Jeb Bush announced his campaign, George Bush said in an interview with NPR that the family name should not dissuade him from running.

“I mean, the environment is what it is… Some guy at one time said to me, ‘You know, I don't like the idea of Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Bush.’ I said, ‘Oh, OK.’ I said, ‘How do you like the idea of Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Clinton?’ And the point is that these may be the two best candidates their party has to offer.”

Still, Jeb Bush’s campaign has not been doing well. And this biography doesn't appear to be helping.

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