At an evening soiree for Jewish Republican donors Saturday, Former President George W. Bush said Hillary Clinton was “formidable” but beatable, in a rare comment on the 2016 presidential race. Bush, addressing a Las Vegas ballroom crowd that included Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, sat through an hour-long question-and-answer session. His topics ranged from foreign policy to family issues, as he discussed the expected candidacy of his brother Jeb Bush in the 2016 campaign. Although the younger Bush has yet to officially announce his presidency, polls suggest he’s already leading his Republican competition.
Bush made his comments at the spring meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition on Saturday evening. Former aides to the president Ari Fleischer and Josh Bolten conducted the interview, during which Bush admitted that his last name could have a negative impact on his brother’s race. “He acknowledged that his last name could be a distraction and that he would stay out of the light,” a source told Politico. “He basically said, ‘I’m going to be out of the public eye’.”
The remarks come as Jeb steps up his campaign in the lead-up to the official announcement of his candidacy. Earlier this month, a CNN/ORC poll had Bush leading his Republican contenders — the likes of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio — with 17 percent (five percentage points ahead of closest competition Walker). For the last four months, Jeb has been fundraising with a vengeance, and with family support.
Jeb’s father and brother have both served their time in the White House, and the presence of both a Bush and a Clinton in the 2016 race has raised concerns over the dynastic nature of U.S. politics. As The Guardian points out, a contest between Hillary and Jeb could mean that two families would monopolize White House residency for — at minimum— a combined total of 24 out of 32 years.
Barbara Bush, wife of George H.W. Bush and mother of George W. and Jeb, has expressed her discomfort at the notion. “I think it’s a great country; there are a lot of great families,” she has said. “It’s not just four families or whatever. There are other people out there who are very qualified, and we’ve had enough Bushes.”
On Saturday, Bush seemed to echo some of Barbara's feelings, but highlighted that he would avoid adding to Jeb’s challenges. “He basically said being a Bush is a challenge,” Norm Coleman ,a former Minnesota senator and board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, told the New York Times. Elise Weingarten, another attendee, recalled, “He essentially said people don’t want dynasties in America.” Bush said he would attempt to remain unnoticed in the 2016 campaign, telling the assembled crowd, “You won’t see me.”
Bush’s attention also swung to Clinton — Jeb’s potential competition. Bush talked generally of “good candidates” in the 2016 race, then focused on Clinton’s challenges — particularly the decision on how to position her campaign in relation to President Obama’s legacy. Attendee Harvey Weingarten remembered Bush saying, “It’s going to be hard for her to defend or support” Obama’s legacy. Bush also reportedly said that people would be encouraged to vote for Clinton “because of the narrative that she would be the first woman president, and that in a close election that could matter," a source told Politico.
The spring meeting, held at the Las Vegas Venetian Hotel, was a strictly private, invite-only and off-the-record event. The 800 or so attendees were obliged to respect the “no notes” rule stipulated at the kick-off of the event. Bush’s appearance was apparently greeted with enthusiastic applause. The meeting, held over the last week, has seen Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, and Lindsey Graham come before the influential Republican Jewish Coalition.
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