Jeb Bush invokes family’s legacy in Michigan

Chad Livengood The Detroit News

Mackinac Island — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush invoked his family legacy as an asset here this past weekend, the second time in seven months the Republican presidential hopeful has promoted or defended the Bush name in Michigan.

The 62-year-old son of former President George H.W. Bush and brother of ex-President George W. Bush has avoided mentioning the family name in his campaign. Front-runner billionaire Donald Trump has mocked the tendency, tweeting attacks such as “Jeb Bush never uses his last name on advertising, signage, materials etc. Is he ashamed of the name BUSH?”

But that wasn’t the case Friday night at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, where Jeb Bush criticized the foreign policy of President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner.

“Name a country in the world where our relationship is better today than the day that Hillary Clinton became secretary of state,” Bush said, eventually naming Iran, Cuba and perhaps Burma.

The problem, he said, is that Obama’s foreign and domestic policies have led to a less secure world and hindered relations with Israel and Canada, America’s closest trading partner that also borders Michigan.

“The next president needs to restore these relationships and create peace and security — and I know how to do that,” Bush said. “I know how to do this because, yes, I am a Bush. I happen to have seen two really good presidents develop relationships with other countries.”

The Bush campaign appears to have decided it can’t run away from the past two presidents — much like a vice president seeking the presidency can’t abandon the administration’s record, said Steve Mitchell, an East Lansing-based Republican strategic and pollster.

“You can never ignore the obvious. He’s a Bush,” Mitchell said. “The only way that he can overcome some of the negatives of being the third family member to run for president is to start to turn it around and stress the positives.”

He also speculated that Bush may have been prompted to mention the family because of his introduction by Peter Secchia, who talked about his relationship with the first President Bush as the U.S. ambassador to Italy.

Bush’s father has been praised for forming an international coalition that backed the first Iraq war in 1990-91 that freed Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s annexation and then destroyed Iraq’s army.

Bush’s brother invaded Iraq with congressional approval in 2003 and toppled Hussein. But critics noted the United States spent more than $1 trillion on the war and maintained troops in the country to handle a civil war until the nation’s government was stabilized before George W. Bush left office in January 2009.

Since Obama withdrew U.S. forces in August 2010, Iraq has become destabilized and the terror group ISIS has taken over parts of Syria, spilling over and taking large sections of Iraq.

In May, Jeb Bush ran into trouble when he gave unclear answers about his position on the 2003 Iraq War. He eventually said the world is “significantly safer” without Hussein, but “I would not have gone into Iraq” knowing “what we know now.”

This isn’t the first time Bush has addressed his family heritage.

When he spoke to the Detroit Economic Club in February, Bush answered a question about his family from Detroit Regional Chamber President Sandy Baruah, who worked in George W. Bush’s Commerce Department and supports the former Florida governor’s campaign. Bush defended his father and brother, while saying he will be his own candidate.

“I love my dad. In fact, my dad is the greatest man alive. If anybody disagrees, we'll go outside, unless you're like 6-foot-5, 250 pounds and much younger than me. Then we’ll negotiate,” he said to laughter from the audience.

“And I love my brother. I think he has been a great president. It doesn’t bother me a bit to be proud of him and love him. But I know for a fact that if I’m going to be successful ... I'm going to do it on my own.”

Michigan has traditionally shown support for the Bushes.

Jeb Bush is the leading fundraiser in the state among all the presidential candidates. George H.W. Bush was the last Republican to win the state’s electoral votes in the 1988 presidential election. George W. Bush was supported in 2000 by then-Gov. John Engler but lost the Republican primary to Sen. John McCain.