The Evolver

Before he was the leader of the free world, the “liberator” of Iraq, and the most unpopular president since Richard Nixon, George W. Bush was just a guy with terrible clothes trying to win his first election. In an excerpt from Dead Certain, Robert Draper recalls the dilettante who would be governor—and the governor who decided he was ready for the big time.
Illustration by Robert Grossman

George, you’ve got no base here. All you’ve got is a famous name.” This time, George W. Bush listened when Texas political operatives like his longtime friend Jim Francis warned him about running for office. It was early 1989, and ever since the previous Thanksgiving, the president-elect’s son had been discussing with friends the 1990 gubernatorial race. He’d now distinguished himself on a national stage as his father’s gatekeeper, his speech-making surrogate, and, when the press disparaged Dad, his avenging angel. Lee Atwater had made some calls to Texas kingmakers on George W.’s behalf. Among those who believed the son could prevail in a contested Republican primary and then slay the dreaded Ann Richards was another Atwater protégé, Austin direct-mail specialist Karl Rove.

But if Rove was wrong, George W. would end up defeated, probably broke, publicly ridiculed as a man whose only achievement was to be born a Bush.

Instead, he moved to Dallas and bought a baseball club.

As stairways to a governorship go, George W.’s was as original, if not quite as cinematic, as Teddy Roosevelt’s abandoning a life of letters and bureaucratic appointments to lead the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill. Seeing the Bush name as instant credibility, baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth gave the imperial wink to the group

More Texas Monthly

Loading, please wait...