Spartanburg, S.C. — In the twilight hours of South Carolina primary – and what could well be the twilight of his campaign – Jeb Bush was surrounded by family.
“You like Bushes? We got a pile of Bushes,” cracked South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been barnstorming his home state to help Jeb pull off the showing he needs to sustain his candidacy.
To Jeb Bush’s right sat his mother, Barbara Bush, who beamed proudly as Graham called her “America’s mom” and addressed her as “Miss Bush,” while singing the praises of Jeb, whom she called “one of my four favorite sons.” A few feet away sat two of the other sons — Marvin and Neil. To Barbara Bush’s right was Jeb’s wife, Columba.
Jeb Bush has fully embraced his last name. It could be particularly effective in South Carolina, where his other brother – former President George W. Bush – remains popular. The 43rd president was in South Carolina earlier this week to stump for Jeb, and you can’t turn on a radio in the state without hearing an ad where the former president says Jeb would make a great president.
Graham acknowledged that some people have doubts about electing a third Bush president. But, he said, “there’s no such thing as dynasties in America” because voters have to elect you. “41 earned the right to be president,” Graham said. “43 earned the right to be president.”
But at the same time that Bush was fully wrapping himself in the embrace of his family, he was pushing back on some of the other narratives that have stuck to him over the course of this campaign. He mocked the idea of himself as an “establishment” candidate.
“The pundits now start talking about lanes, like we’re little widgets in a narrative that’s all part of a play that we’re all supposed to play our part, right,” Bush riffed to the crowd of about 150 in the backroom of Wade’s, a restaurant in a strip mall here. “So the pundits on cable TV, you know, I’m in the establishment lane. It’s like an interstate somewhere, you just have to go, just straight, and you can’t do anything about it. And then other people are in the outsider lane. Well here’s my lane, my lane is one of being a disruptor.”
He also mocked the idea that he had “been tagged as the Common Core candidate.”
“I don’t know what it means, but it doesn’t sound good,” he said somewhat disdainfully. His version: “I’m the education candidate. … The rest of them are jibber jabberers. All they do is talk about it. I’m the one that has fought the fight and won. No one comes close to my record on education.”
But in a statement that was either odd or telling 24-hours before South Carolina voters go to the polls, Bush also raised the specter of his first foray into politics in 1994, when he challenged Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles and lost.
“In ’94 I was a candidate, and I lost. And it was the greatest experience of my life, to be honest with you,” Bush said. “I don’t know about you all, but I learned more in my setbacks than all of the things that happened when things were going good.”