Pierce Bush: A second heir to the Bush legacy shifts right to win

Pierce Bush: A second heir to the Bush legacy shifts right to win
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No family has played a more prominent role in modern American politics than the Bush family. Over the past 50 years, a Bush has been president of the United States for 12 years (George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush), vice president of the United States for 8 years (George H.W. Bush), governor of Texas (George W. Bush) for six years and governor of Florida (Jeb Bush) for eight years. 

Until this past December, only one of George H.W. Bush’s grandchildren had pursued elective office. Jeb Bush’s eldest son, George P. Bush, first ran for office in 2014, and has served as the Texas land commissioner since 2015. George P.’s status as the sole office seeker of his generation ended in December, when his cousin Pierce Bush, son of Neil Bush, launched a bid for the Republican nomination in Texas’s 22nd Congressional District. 

Pierce Bush’s campaign has seen him adopt policy positions on several issues, in particular immigration, which one does not generally associate with the Bush family. But this tack to the right reflects his need to compete in a GOP primary where a sizable majority of the Republican voters have preferences on immigration that differ notably from those of Texas voters back in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s when they voted for Pierce’s grandfather and uncle. To be competitive in a Texas GOP primary in 2020, even a Bush has to take a comparatively hardline position on immigration.

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Bush is competing with 14 other Republicans in TX-22, former House Majority Leader Tom Delay’s old district, centered on Fort Bend County in Houston’s southwest suburbs. Despite being the last serious Republican candidate to enter the race, Bush has put his Rolodex and network to good use, receiving over $1 million in contributions, more than his non self-funding rivals combined. No one will obtain the absolute majority of the vote needed to win on March 3, thus the principal battle is for one of the two positions in the May runoff. Bush faces competition from three rivals for these two golden runoff tickets. 

In 2018 Kathaleen Wall spent more than $6 million from her personal fortune for a third place finish in the GOP primary in Texas’s 2nd Congressional District, in a contest where she was widely panned for a dreadful campaign. For 2020 she shifted her sights southwest to TX-22 and has spent over $4 million of her own money on this second bid.

Troy Nehls has served as Fort Bend County sheriff since 2013, having been first elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2016. More than two-thirds of TX-22 voters live in Fort Bend County.

Greg Hill is a former city council member and current judge in Brazoria County, which contains one-fifth of TX-22 voters.

In 2016 Sen. Ted Cruz won (R-Texas) 48 percent of the GOP presidential primary vote in TX-22, followed by Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDeSantis on Florida schools reopening: 'If you can do Walmart,' then 'we absolutely can do schools' NYT editorial board calls for the reopening of schools with help from federal government's 'checkbook' Mueller pens WaPo op-ed: Roger Stone 'remains a convicted felon, and rightly so' MORE with 24 percent. The more centrist options, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP chairman vows to protect whistleblowers following Vindman retirement over 'bullying' Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad GOP Miami mayor does not commit to voting for Trump MORE (R-Fla.) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, received only 19 percent and 4 percent. Pierce Bush knows that to advance to the May runoff and capture the GOP nomination, he will need to win over a significant number of very conservative Republican primary voters. 

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George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Jeb Bush were known within the Republican Party for their moderate position on immigration. Pierce Bush’s first and most widely aired campaign commercial criticizes the progressive immigration proposals of liberals Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden wins Louisiana primary Oh, Canada: Should the US emulate Canada's National Health Service? Trump glosses over virus surge during Florida trip MORE (I-Vt.) (end the deportations), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezGoya CEO dismisses critics for praise of Trump: 'I'm not apologizing' Trump tweets his support for Goya Foods amid boycott Hispanic Caucus requests meeting with private detention center CEOs MORE (D-N.Y.) (abolish ICE) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) (take the wall down). The ad then pivots to commenting on how the lack of a secure border allows drug cartels to pump poison into Texas and that Texas kids pay the price. The commercial ends with Bush standing next to a large Anglo law enforcement officer and making three promises (both verbally and on the screen in red bold print) to “STOP The Cartels,” “DEPORT Criminal Illegals” and “PROTECT Our Communities.” 

TX-22’s 5 percent natural Republican tilt, the Bush surname (which remains synonymous for many Houstonians with moderation, compassion and dignity), a sterling record as CEO of the country’s largest Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliate and excellent people skills would make Pierce Bush a strong favorite to win in November. That is one reason why many Republicans, such as retiring TX-22 Rep. Pete OlsonPeter (Pete) Graham OlsonChina must be held accountable for its egregious actions against Hong Kong The Hill's Campaign Report: Florida's coronavirus surge raises questions about GOP convention People over politics on PPP funding MORE, have backed Bush, believing he will keep TX-22 in GOP hands, while a more extreme and awkward candidate like Wall could lose. 

The GOP primary will be the toughest obstacle for Pierce Bush to surmount in his run for Congress. If he is able to reach and then win the May GOP runoff, it will be downhill for him as he races toward November in a bid to become the first Bush of his generation to be elected to federal office. In doing so, he would follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, who began his career as an elected official in 1967 representing Texas’s 7th Congressional District, TX-22’s current next-door neighbor.

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 on Twitter @MarkPJonesTX.