Brother goes to bat for Bush

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush hopes to tap into the votes of veterans for a strong finish in the state’s primary.

COLUMBIA — Just two days after having his family name smeared by the Republican presidential frontrunner during the Greenville debate, Jeb Bush is cashing in his biggest insurance policy by dusting off his brother, former President George W. Bush for a Lowcountry rally Monday night.

It will be the first time George W. Bush hits the campaign trail since he left the presidency.

The rally, at the North Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center at 6 p.m., is expected to draw hundreds, if not thousands, as the Bush name is held in esteem by many Palmetto State Republicans.

Not invited to the rally, however, will be Donald Trump.

Trump lashed out Saturday night at George W. Bush’s decision to launch the Iraq War, accusing the former administration of lying by claiming that there were weapons of mass destruction when there were none.

“Obviously the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake,” Trump said during the night. “George Bush made a mistake. We can make mistakes. But that one was a beauty. We should have never been in Iraq. We have destabilized the Middle East.”

The anti-Bush, Iraq war criticism is not a strategy that’s likely to work in South Carolina, said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who announced his support for Jeb Bush after ending his own bid for the White House.

“The market for those who like Putin and believe W. (Bush) is a liar, is pretty small in South Carolina,” Graham added.

Trump “called George W. Bush a liar and that will not resonate,” Graham said. “It offended me greatly when he suggested that somehow Bush caused 9/11.”

Monday’s rally is designed to show state voters the former Florida governor offers a proven record, leadership skills and is viable enough to unite the party and beat Hillary Clinton in the general election. That formula looked much easier back in September when Bush boasted during a stop in Mount Pleasant he would win the primary here outright.

“Take it to the bank,” he said at the time.

Instead, Trump is poised to finish first on Saturday by a wide margin, according to polls, leaving Bush and three other candidates battling for second and third. No matter what happens in South Carolina, Bush told The Post and Courier he’s in the race for the long haul.

“That’s just the process,” Bush said last week from his Columbia campaign office. “It’s a long process and my intention is to stay the course. But it’s important to show continual improvement in these states. I think we’ll do that.”

Bush needs a strong finish in the historically Bush-family-friendly state of South Carolina to give his campaign a much-needed boost, said Kendra Stewart, political science professor at the College of Charleston.

“He’s invested so much in South Carolina,” Stewart said. “If that had no impact, then that will be a clear signal to at least Bush supporters — if not to Gov. Bush — that the time has come.”

There are still plenty of undecided voters for Bush to court, Steward said, leaving those who won’t support Donald Trump or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz searching for an alternative.

It’s a “muddied middle pack,” said Chip Felkel, a Greenville-based GOP consultant. He said there are two races going on for the South Carolina primary: Trump and Cruz battling for first place, while Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio are fighting for third.

“Certainly the goal would be to finish in that third spot,” Felkel said of Bush. “But I don’t think it’s any more important for him than it is for anybody else.”

If Jeb Bush had used his strongest resources — his family — earlier on, his ground game could’ve been more effective in South Carolina, Stewart added.

Appearing in North Charleston will also have some geographic significance for George Bush, who visited the nearby Charleston Air Force Base several times during his presidency in support of the military mission there.

Jeb Bush said it’ll be an emotional time for him to have his brother alongside. He added George W. is one of the few people alive who can talk about what it was like to be a president facing tough decisions.

“He can tell the story of what’s necessary to be president,” Jeb Bush said. “In fact there are only two Republicans that can tell that story that are alive today. And the first name of both is ‘George’.”

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 843-708-5891.