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George P. Bush: The future of a political dynasty

From Prescott Bush, through George H.W. Bush, to George W. Bush and Jeb Bush, the Bush name has come to be synonymous with public service. Yet, the responsibility for carrying that legacy through to the next generation now falls largely on the shoulders of George P. Bush., the only of President George H.W. Bush’s 14 grandchildren who has successfully pursued a career in politics.

George P. Bush was born in Texas, but was largely raised in Florida. He returned to Texas to obtain his undergraduate degree from Rice University in Houston and thereafter his law degree from the University of Texas at Austin.

In 2013, Bush — at the time a successful real estate and oil and gas investor in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — filed to run for political office for the first time for commissioner of the General Land Office of Texas, a statewide office. Bush won both the GOP primary (73 to 27 percent) and general election (61 to 35 percent) easily and was sworn in as the 29th Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office (31st if we include the years of the Republic of Texas) in January of 2015.

In 2018, Bush symbolically represented the continuation of his grandfather, uncle and father’s tradition of pragmatic and compassionate conservatism, within a Texas Republican Party that was increasingly veering to the right. At the time of the March 2018 primary, many Texas Republicans viewed Bush as an outlier (and not in a good way), out of step with the more dogmatic and polarizing positions of influential Republican statewide elected officials such as Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. It appeared in fact at the time that George P.’s star might be dimming.

But then, in November 2018, Texans delivered a sharp rebuke to both President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpJoaquín Castro: Trump would be 'in court right now' if he weren't the president or 'privileged' Trump flubs speech location at criminal justice conference Comey reveals new details on Russia probe during House testimony MORE and the Texas Republican Party. At the same time, voters signaled their receptiveness to the less polarizing and more inclusive message of Democrat Beto O’Rourke. O’Rourke narrowly lost the U.S. Senate race to Republican Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzStrategist behind Warren's political rise to meet with O'Rourke: report Trump tells McConnell to let Senate vote on criminal justice reform Sanders to Colbert: 'You will be my vice presidential candidate!' MORE by 3 percent, in a state where in 2016 Trump defeated Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonComey reveals new details on Russia probe during House testimony Clinton among VIPS attending pre-wedding celebrations for daughter of India’s richest man Comey’s confession: dossier not verified before, or after, FISA warrant MORE by 9 percent and the average Republican statewide candidate defeated their Democratic rival by 15 percent.

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Notable amidst the GOP’s statewide debacle was the differential reaction that Texas voters had to more pragmatic and inclusive conservative candidates like Bush who defeated his Democratic rival by 11 percent and more dogmatic and polarizing candidates like Patrick, Paxton and Miller whose margins of victory were less than 5 percent.

Many Texas Republicans, who as late as this past spring derided Bush for being insufficiently conservative, are now increasingly looking to him and others like him to help keep Texas under Republican control as the party looks towards increasingly challenging elections in 2020 and beyond. They fear that if the Texas GOP continues down the rightward path it has been following in recent years, it could find itself walking off a cliff into political oblivion like the California GOP.

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Bush’s next political move will most likely occur as we approach 2022. At that time, he could run for the Office of Attorney General. The current Attorney General Ken Paxton is facing three felony indictments and is widely seen by Texas Republicans as a political liability who adversely affects the party’s image among general election voters.

If Paxton is forced to resign prior to 2022, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott could appoint Bush to fill the vacancy, or, if not, Bush could file to run in the 2022 election. The visible and influential position of Texas attorney general would without question provide Bush with a bigger stage with which to build his reputation among voters. In the interim, as we continue to mourn the passing of President George H.W. Bush, we can take comfort in the fact that the Bush family legacy of public service remains alive and well in the Lone Star State in the figure of George P. Bush.

Mark P. Jones is the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy’s fellow in political science and the Joseph D. Jamail chair in Latin American Studies at Rice University as well as a co-author of “Texas Politics Today: 2017-2018 Edition.” Follow him @MarkPJonesTX.