Bush Brigades: Gone and Mostly Forgotten

There’s an interesting piece up at Buzzfeed by Ruby Cramer examining the Bush family’s ties to and experience with Iowa, where Jeb will make his first appearance as a proto-candidate for president next month. The best part is the photo of Poppy exulting in front of a tallyboard in Des Moines on the night of the caucuses in 1980, flanked by sons Jebbie and W.–the very night he began annoying the whole hep political world with his “Big Mo” talk (ended by Ronald Reagan in New Hampshire). But Cramer makes it clear there’s no continuous Bush tradition in the state:

When George H. W. Bush first ran for president in 1980 — beating Ronald Reagan in Iowa, then losing the nomination — a group of his supporters in the state, the so-called “Bush Brigade,” stayed together for another eight years, waiting for a second chance.

But young Jeb Bush, the only son working full-time on the 1980 campaign, spent those early months of the election based in Puerto Rico, not Iowa.

More to the point, the Brigades were ragged enough by 1988 that Poppy ran a very poor third in Iowa that year, running not only behind Bob Dole (on whom he turned the tables in New Hampshire, exploiting Dole’s refusal to sign a no-tax pledge in the one place where that was as unacceptable then as it is today) but behind Pat Robertson. By the time W. was setting up shop to run for president in 2000, he left little to chance in Iowa, forming a close alliance with the Christian Right and flip-flopping to favor ethanol subsidies (which his main opponent, John McCain, continued to oppose).

By contrast, Jeb still opposes ethanol, and despite his own close alliance with the Christian Right in Florida, is now alienating the tribe in Iowa over immigration policy and Common Core. And it does not seem he’s spent much time in the First-in-the-Nation-Caucus State since 1980. Yes, he recently hired well-regarded Iowan David Kochel for his proto-campaign, but then promptly moved him to the national HQ in Miami. I gather than in Iowa like everywhere else in the Republican political universe, W.’s reelection campaign (which did flip Iowa from narrowly blue to narrowly red in 2004, the first time it had gone Republican in twenty years) is remembered, believe it or not, as sort of the best days of everybody’s lives. But twelve years later, it’s unclear that will benefit Jeb unless he takes the perilous path of dragging his older brother onto the campaign trail. Obviously a lot of people who weren’t fundraising Pioneers for W. or operatives for his campaign probably don’t remember those and subsequent Bush years all that fondly.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.