Jeb and George W. Bush exchanged some brotherly ribbing on Monday before a roomful of donors, rewarding some of their biggest supporters with a rare public sit-down between two members of one of the most revered political families.
It was all a subtle attempt to persuade donors to stand by Jeb Bush’s ailing campaign as he tries to wrestle his way back to front-runner status by focusing on one of the Bush family’s biggest assets: experience.
The on-stage discussion, which took place at a donor retreat in Houston, also revealed how the former president might be used on the campaign trail, should he ever openly help his brother’s ailing presidential bid. George W. Bush been active on the fundraising circuit for Jeb Bush’s campaign, but he has yet to appear at a public campaign event.
“He’s gonna win,” George W. Bush said. “There’s no doubt in my mind having done the job, he can handle the pressures of the job, that he’ll be able to make tough decisions and stand by them.”
George Bush described Jeb as a “fierce competitor” and hailed the way he handled eight hurricanes and four tropical storms that barreled into Florida on both their watches — when Jeb was governor of the state and when George was president.
The former President argued that his brother’s ties to the Hispanic community will also be a crucial advantage for wooing over Hispanic voters — which the former President asserted was “essential to winning.”
“A lot of politics is relational. Can that person relate to me? Does that person understand how I think? Given Jeb’s relationship with Columba, and Columba herself, people will say, ‘He understands how I think,'” George W. Bush said, referring to Jeb Bush’s Mexican-born wife.
Jeb Bush, meanwhile, defended his older brother against recent flame-throwing from Donald Trump over the 9/11 attacks.
“The idea that a candidate would think he can make political hay, to create … a new narrative on the reality of how he led is a joke,” he said. “It shows a lack of seriousness.”
Jeb Bush described his brother’s handling of the terror attacks as “awe-inspiring” and argued that being president requires a humble nature, “something that a few of our candidates don’t have.”
“They personalize everything and it’s all about them,” he added. “Well, it isn’t.”
Bush also unleashed a swipe at another rival, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, bringing up the fact that when he was governor, he nixed some of the then-Florida House representative’s budget requests.
“I vetoed a couple of projects for one of the presidential candidates,” Bush said.
The two also poked fun at their mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, who was sitting in the front row, and George W. Bush recounted a story about Russian president Vladimir Putin’s dog.
Here are a few other colorful moments from the event.
Hormel out of the Box
As the brothers recalled fond memories of growing up in Texas, George W. Bush joked about what he described as his mother’s less-than-impressive cooking skills.
“We’d anxiously await mother to cook us a meal, which she never did,” he said. “If you call pouring a little Hormel out of the box into a boiling pot of water cooking, then she did cook.”
Sticking up for his mom, Jeb Bush weighed in: “I remember it differently, Mom.”
“Yeah, you’re running for office,” his brother shot back, winning big laughs from the crowd.
“At least you can speak English”
George W. Bush spent considerable time on what he views at Jeb Bush’s ability to lure Hispanic voters, referencing his own popularity with the demographic. The former president won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, according to exit polls.
“I worked hard here in Texas on the Latino vote by showing respect and my language was not one of alienation but one of welcome and unity,” Bush said. “Jeb’s gonna do better than that.”
Jeb Bush talked about how he comes across more animated when he speaks in Spanish than he does in English because “there’s emotion in the language.”
“People tell me that all the time,” he said. “Just saying the exact same thing in English, in English there’s a cultural difference.
“At least you can speak English,” said Bush, who was known for flubbing his words.
That Time Jeb Bush Shoveled Rice Hulls
George W. Bush said he got his younger brother a minimum-wage job one summer shoveling ammoniated rice hulls, the husks of rice that are cooked and used as cattle feed.
“So for 12 hours a day, five days a week, I made minimum wage, until Thursday, when I basically got time and a half. Minimum wage back then was like $2.10,” Jeb Bush said.
“Then I would come home where George was renting an apartment in the Rice area of Houston,” he said. “And he would make me hose myself down, butt-naked outside, before I could even come into the room.”
“It was right before the cell phone, by the way, thankfully,” his brother added to laughs.
Barbara’s White Hair
At one point, Barbara Bush made a joke about both sons getting white hair.
“I’m a little bored about hearing about mine,” she said. “How do you think I got white hair? Because I raised two older sons who caused me nothing … ”
George W. Bush jumped in: “But joy!”
“Caused me nothing,” his mother concluded, before adding: “Jeb is going to be the next president.”
My Dog is Bigger than Your Dog
When the discussion turned to Vladimir Putin, George W. Bush remembered an interesting exchange with the Russian president involving his dog. It’s a story he tells often, but he argued that it demonstrates the point of really getting to know the personalities of other foreign leaders.
“I introduced Putin to Barney. You remember Barney? Scottish terrier. I was crazy about the little guy,” Bush said. “Anyway, so Putin kinda dissed him. Kinda looked at him and his body language was, ‘You call that thing a dog?’ Kinda hurt my feelings, but of course I was President of the United States and couldn’t let anybody know it.”
A year later, he was at Putin’s palace and the Russian president introduced Bush to his own dog, a huge hound named Koni.
“He kneels and he says bigger and stronger and faster than Barney,” Bush said. “And anyway, it was an instructive moment. Imagine that? A president saying my dog is bigger than your dog. And really what it says is Vladimir’s got a chip on his shoulder because he believes the demise of the Soviet was bad for the world.”