Former president George W Bush returned to campaigning Monday for the first after leaving office in 2009 to stump for his brother Jeb Bush, whose bid for the White House is in a bit of trouble.
The older Bush was funny, as most people remembered him; self-deprecating, also a known trait; and witheringly scornful of Donald Trump without naming him, and that was new.
He invoked India, whose ostracism from the comity of nuclear powers he ended with a path-breaking nuclear agreement in 2008, but in a completely different, homegrown, context.
“Thank goodness our country welcomed her parents from India when they immigrated here in 1969,” he said at a South Carolina rally about Nikki Haley, the state’s Indian-origin governor.
He met Haley earlier in the day to, every commentator agreed, seek the endorsement of a governor who is polling 80% in popularity and is on everyone’s list as a vice presidential candidate.
On Monday night, George W made news, however, as someone selflessly looking out for his younger brother, keenly aware of his troubles and determined to deal with them.
“These are tough times and I know that Americans are angry, but we do not need someone in the Oval Office who mirrors and inflames our anger and our frustrations,” the former president told a rally in South Carolina, ahead of the Republican primary in that state on Saturday.
After leaving office, the former president deliberately kept out of politics, perhaps because of a term still judged harshly by most, but made an exception for his brother.
The Washington Post, citing friends of the former president, said he — as well his father George H W Bush, the 41st US president — has been “bewildered” by the rise of Trump, the front-runner.
Trump may have prompted that. He has trashed Jeb Bush, his family — father, brother and mother — for a while now, without getting a push back as strong as now.
The turnout at the rally, experts noted, was larger than anything Jeb Bush, running to be the third Bush in the White House, has attracted on the campaign trail.
The candidate also delivered, as was widely acknowledged, his strongest speech yet, possibly because of the presence of his brother, with the former first lady Laura Bush on the stage.
Jeb Bush, a two-term Florida governor, needs to finish in the top three to remain in the race with a credible chance. He is currently polling fifth in the RealClearPolitics average of polls.
His war chest is large enough to last a while, but pressure will start mounting on him to leave the race if he performs as badly in South Carolina as in Iowa and New Hampshire.
The former president is a controversial figure even among Republicans but remains popular among military personnel and their families, and South Carolina has eight military bases.
The former president opened with his familiarly self-deprecating remarks — he said he had written two books since retiring, surprising those who thought he couldn’t read leave alone write.