One of the things that surprised me while reporting this year on a story about George P. Bush was the phenomenon of pro-P., anti-Bush voters. These were Republican grassroots folks who said they didn’t care for the Bush dynasty but were willing to put that aside because they liked P. Bush, son of Jeb and nephew of George W. They were willing to overlook P.’s cringeworthy and failed campaign to make Donald Trump love him back. One gentleman I talked to in Round Rock put it this way: “I don’t love dynasties. And frankly, I don’t think the legacy is a great legacy. Little Bush was a f—up,” referring to George W. “The idiot in Florida is still an idiot,” he said of Jeb. But P., he said, “doesn’t seem like the predecessors.”
It’s impossible to know how many GOP voters made this calculation, but what we do know is that Bush, the two-term Texas land commissioner, managed to come in second in the four-way Republican primary race for Texas attorney general. He now faces Ken Paxton, the sitting AG who boasts an impressive list of alleged crimes and ethical lapses, in a May runoff that seems like Paxton’s to lose. Right after the primary, which Paxton won with 43 percent of the vote, the Texas AG put his opponent on notice: he would be doing more than just defeating one man named Bush. “The Bushes have had their chance,” Paxton said on a conservative radio show. “It’s time for the dynasty to end. It’s time to have somebody that can get in there and fight, and not capitulate to the establishment.”
It was a rich comment coming from someone who has been in public office for twenty years and whose wife serves in the Texas Senate, but give Paxton his due: he knows how to speak to the restive GOP base. In fact it was Paxton’s ally, Donald Trump, who first made “no more Bushes” a rallying cry—way back in 2013.
And polling out today suggests that the anti-Bush phenomenon is strong. The Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation, a nonprofit largely affiliated with centrist Republicans, found that Paxton has a “commanding lead” over Bush. Among likely voters, Paxton leads 65 percent to 23 percent. That fairly massive gap can be explained in part by a hard-core group of Bush haters. About two-fifths of Republican primary voters say they would never vote for P. Bush. The number one reason? He is a member of the Bush family.
The anti-Bush sentiment runs deep. In a hypothetical general election matchup, the indicted Paxton actually does better than Bush against the two potential Democratic candidates for Texas AG. While Paxton outperforms both Joe Jaworski and Rochelle Garza in a hypothetical matchup in November, leading each by 6–7 percent, the poll has Bush in a statistical dead heat with either Democrat. Asked to choose between a Bush and a Democrat, large numbers of Republicans—particularly older white voters—would opt for the Libertarian candidate. This undercuts a key Bush message: that Paxton will lose to a Democrat in November because of his legal troubles.
Bush has tried to discredit polling that shows him losing badly. On Monday, a pro-Paxton PAC released a survey showing Bush trailing Paxton by 59 percent to 30 percent among likely Republican voters.
But then the next day, the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation poll seemed to indicate that actually many Texans do prefer an “indicted, under investigation crook” to a Bush. And the Paxton crowd did a little dance.
The first rule of dynasties is that they all end. The Ming, the Hapsburgs, the Bourbons, the Bushes—whether they endure a thousand years or fifty, all must eventually succumb to the weight of history. If you believe this poll, the Bush dynasty may meet its demise in May, at the hands of a man whom the P. Bush campaign says belongs in jail