In a carefully staged but endearing Bush family moment, former first lady Barbara Bush cleared the path for another son to run for president by announcing that she no longer believes too many Bushes have served in the White House. “I’ve changed my mind,” she said.
Her pronouncement came via Skype on Friday during a dinner in Bonita Springs, Fla., of about 350 supporters of her family literacy foundation and while her son, the state’s former Gov. Jeb Bush, stood on stage gladly welcoming his mother’s approval. “Hey mom, can I get that in writing by the way?” he said.
When Bush, who is raising huge sums of money while he weighs a potential run for the White House in 2016, left the stage, he took a seat at the head table next to the other crucially important woman in his life: his wife, Columba, who has expressed her own skepticism about her husband’s line of work. “I am not interested in politics at all,” Columba Bush told the Los Angeles Times in 1991, while her father-in-law, George H.W. Bush, was president. “At home, around the dinner table, we never discuss politics.”
Bush has acknowledged the challenge he faces in presenting himself to voters in a way that distinguishes him from his father or brother, both former presidents. But Bush has also had to do convincing within his own family.
While Columba Bush kept a low profile during her husband’s campaigns in Florida, Jeb Bush said Friday that may change if he runs for president. “My wife is my inspiration, she’s my soul mate,” Bush told reporters Friday. “She is going to be involved in the campaign and keep me sane, if I go beyond the consideration of thinking about this, for sure.”
Bush has often spoken eloquently about his fiery affair with his wife. In Washington two years ago, he referred to her as his “lover” while speaking to reporters. In 1986, he described the “raw animal magnetism” in the early days of courtship with his wife.”I just fell in love with her,” Bush told the Miami Herald. “It’s just one of those indescribable things. It’s only happened to me once so far. I don’t know how to describe it. I can tell you the symptoms. Not being able to sleep. Not having an appetite. She was the first girl I ever felt that way about.”
On Friday, Bush spoke movingly about his wife and how she would factor into his potential campaign. “I can’t do anything without her,” Bush said. “I can’t imagine going on such an arduous journey – if I go beyond the consideration – as well. She'll be actively involved.”
Bush also said his children were behind him. Noelle Bush, who battled with drugs while he was governor, “is supportive,” he said.
He said his oldest child, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, will help while staying focused on his current job. Bush joked that his youngest child, Jeb Jr., will want to be so involved “that he won’t be able to put food on the table for my precious granddaughter.”
“Put that in the paper so he might read it,” Bush said.
As for his mother, when Barbara Bush was asked in 2013 about the possibility of Jeb Bush running in 2016, she shot back that “we’ve had enough Bushes.” Wearing a green sweater and surrounded by family pictures, the 89-year-old Barbara Bush used some sweet humor to publicly walk that back.
Before she appeared on the oversized projection screens in a ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa, Jeb Bush stood on stage telling the crowd how many in the family had been inspired by his mother to join the cause of family literacy.
“Of course, when it comes to another means of public service and helping others, my mother and I have always said there’ve been enough Bushes,” Jeb Bush said.
A moment later, Barabara Bush appeared. “What do you mean there are too many Bushes? Are you talking about literacy? That’s not what I’m talking about, but I’ve changed my mind,” she said, as the friendly crowd laughed and applauded. (She got more applause a bit later when she moved the computer camera to reveal her husband sitting nearby.)
“Our problems are so, so big,” Barbara Bush added, “that it doesn’t matter what your last name is.”
She also told Jeb Bush that, yes, she would put it in writing.