For much of the 2016 Republican primary, conventional wisdom has had it that former president George W. Bush is something of a liability to his brother Jeb’s struggling campaign.
But for at least one top Republican in South Carolina – the state that holds the American South’s premier presidential nominating contest and only early state that has never dealt a primary defeat to a member of the Bush family – the 43rd president could be the party establishment’s answer to stop front-runner Donald Trump in his tracks.
“The game changer is: Will 43 engage?” Katon Dawson, a former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, said in an interview about the former president, who was the nation’s 43rd commander-in-chief. “If 43 engages, it will matter for his brother, but, really, it will matter for the entire team.”
Dawson, who was the South Carolina chairman of the former president’s re-election campaign in 2004, said it wasn’t clear what the “boomerang effect” would be for Jeb Bush if his brother joined the campaign, but guessed the younger brother would be helped, particularly in South Carolina. “I know what 43’s poll numbers are in South Carolina. And they’re good,” Dawson said. “Really good. Jeb’s numbers, not so good. But 43’s is.”
But for Dawson, the biggest reason for George W. Bush to wade into the race is to take down Trump, whose rise has confounded the party’s traditional pro-business base. “If he engages, and Trump comes after 43? You gotta know who 43 is to know that you can punch him once, but you won’t punch [him] twice,” Dawson said.
The latest polls in South Carolina show Bush hovering around 10 percent, putting him well behind Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz.