Jeb’s Big Surprise for the Palmetto State: W. Back on the Stump!

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U.S. President George W. Bush declares an end to major combat in Iraq during a speech to crew aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln as the carrier steamed toward San Diego, California, in this May 1, 2003 file photo.
Bush 43 will return to the scene of one of his most famous victories — if Jeb survives New Hampshire.Photo: Larry Downing/Reuters

When I heard Jeb Bush do a shout-out to his father and brother (“the most popular Republican alive today!”) at his get-out-of-town-before-the-votes-come-in event in Des Moines on caucus day, I wasn’t surprised; he decided some time ago to stop fighting his Bushiness and get what he could out of the dynasty (mostly lots and lots of super-pac donations).

Nor was it surprising that Barbara Bush — the doting mother whom no one holds responsible for the mistakes the men in her family made — came into New Hampshire from nearby Kennebunkport to campaign for him. She and Poppy are a living link to the old, more moderate Bush family tradition with strong roots in New England. 

But this is unsettling news:

Former president George W. Bush cut an ad for brother Jeb’s super PAC, and now the candidate himself says the ex-White House occupant will stump for him this month in a key primary state.

He’s going to campaign for me in South Carolina,” Jeb Bush said of George W. on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “I’m excited about that.”

Yeah, we can all feel the excitement, can’t we? But why not bring W. out right away, when, you know, you are for sure still in the race? Apparently saving him for South Carolina was a matter of strategery, according to Scott Conroy and Sam Stein of Huffington Post:

In Bush’s camp, the thinking goes that Jeb has to save himself in New Hampshire, finishing ahead of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, if he wants to remain a viable candidate heading into the South Carolina primary. Then and only then will the time come to deploy the nation’s 43rd president, who famously lost the 2000 New Hampshire primary by 19 points to John McCain but then came back for a campaign-saving victory in the Palmetto State.

Nothing quite like bringing back memories of that South Carolina primary, when a panicked party and conservative movement Establishment helped Bush run one of the nastiest campaigns in that state’s nasty history. Reckon Ralph Reed, who played an especially unsavory role in 2000, could come back for a star turn?

But it’s probably a waste of time to fantasize about all that, assuming Conroy and Stein know what they’re talking about. Jeb might beat out fellow Establishment bravos Kasich and Christie in the Granite State, but he’s about as likely to beat Rubio there (unless something weird happens in Saturday night’s debate) as he is to endorse Bernie Sanders and start railing against his own donors. And that means we’ll never know if W. might have turned the tide.