Three generations of Bush women were interviewed last week on the Today Show to coincide with the launch of the Bush Presidential Library. When host Matt Lauer asked if Jeb Bush, son of George H.W., younger brother of George W., should run for president in 2016, one might almost think it was a rhetorical question. One might also nearly fall off one’s couch at the answer from Bush matriarch Barbara, Jeb’s mother: “There are other people out there that are very qualified, and we’ve had enough Bushes,” she said. Laura Bush, Dubya’s wife, and her daughters could only look a little startled.
The sound bite reverberated around newsrooms, and the headlines read NO MORE BUSHES, making Barbara Bush sound more like a protester than a former First Lady. Her reason for the nay say? While she described son Jeb as one of the best qualified men to do the job, she was concerned he would “get half of our friends and all of our enemies” working against him.
Was this a PR gift to the Democrats? Not necessarily. Whatever damages the Bush camp sustained, the Hillary Clinton camp might have been equally vexed. Babs Bush went on to opine that the presidential field had to be opened up to other contenders. “I think it’s a great country, there are a lot of great families, and it’s not just four families or whatever.” What was looking like great fodder for those opposing Jeb Bush (even his mother says no!) now had a sting in the tail. Clinton’s PR gift had just as quickly been taken away.
THE PR VERDICT: “B” for Barbara Bush and her off script comment. Going off message was mitigated by also robbing her opponents, the Clintons, of the same.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: PR gifts are rarely free. With the rest of the family being supportive of Jeb’s possible run, Barbara Bush’s comments were presumably a spanner in the works. But Hillary Clinton and political strategists hoping to make capital will have been disappointed. Babs Bush’s comments could equally become the rallying cry for opponents to another Clinton presidency. This political gift might be one the Democrats may ultimately have to pass on.