Attorney General Ken Paxton’s victory in Tuesday’s Texas Republican primary was more than another signal of former President Donald Trump’s primacy within the GOP.

It probably ended the seven-decade run of one of America’s greatest political families, the four-generation Bush dynasty.

Paxton’s resounding defeat of Land Commissioner George P. Bush’s effort to move up in the Texas GOP hierarchy means that, for the first time since great-grandfather Prescott Bush was elected to the Senate in 1952, no member of the family will hold — or be seeking — a significant political position.

It also symbolizes the transformation of the GOP from a party reflecting a cross-section of centrists and conservatives like the Bushes, Bob Dole and Ronald Reagan to one dominated by Trump’s boisterous persona and outspoken views.

On a personal level, it raises doubts that the 46-year-old Bush has any political future.

The Bushes have enjoyed a remarkable run unlike any other American family in the past century: two United States presidents, two governors, one senator, one House member and several other appointed and elected positions.

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In Texas, however, their record was more mixed. Both Bushes who became president earlier lost congressional bids in the Lone Star state.

But their political demise stems directly from Trump’s rise, starting with his 2016 defeat of George P. Bush’s father, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. His son’s ambitions collapsed in large part because of his difficulty in coping with the former president, who repeatedly expressed his disdain for the entire Bush family.

That difficulty was initially illustrated in 2016 by George P. Bush’s endorsement of Trump after the latter derided his father in their presidential race for “low energy,” calling him “a stiff” and “a sad and a pathetic person.”

Presumably because of his long-term ambitions, the younger Bush was the only family member to back Trump as the GOP presidential nominee. Indeed, he became the state chairman of the Texas GOP’s united Victory campaign.

Meanwhile, his life-long Republican grandfather, former President George H. W. Bush, voted for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, while his wife, Barbara, voted for son Jeb. Former President George W. Bush left his presidential ballot blank and, in 2020, cast a write-in vote for his former secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.

As 2022 neared, George P. Bush eyed a challenge to Paxton, who has been under indictment for securities fraud since 2015. Before announcing his candidacy for attorney general, he said he consulted with Trump.

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But Trump predictably stuck with Paxton, who mounted one of the major legal challenges aimed at overturning the 2020 presidential election result and keeping Trump in the White House.

More recently, the younger Bush seemed to be trying to match Paxton by taking an increasingly hard line toward the immigration problem. It seemed like a last-ditch effort to wean away some hard-core Texas conservatives, but it failed in a Texas GOP that no longer resembles his uncle’s and his grandfather’s party.

Rating America’s political dynasties has been a frequent occupation of political scientists and other analysts. The Bush family would qualify for the top rank simply by virtue of being one of four American families with two presidents: along with the Adamses, father John and son John Quincy; the Harrisons, grandfather William Henry and grandson Benjamin; and the Roosevelts, cousins Theodore and Franklin.

In 2009, the Brookings Institution’s Stephen Hess devised a ratings system for dynasties, giving each presidential term 10 points and assigning lesser point totals to other offices.

In it, the Kennedys came in first, primarily because of the 60 years served in the Senate by the three brothers John, Robert and Edward.

The Roosevelts, with six presidential terms, were second; the Rockefellers third despite having no presidents; the Harrisons fourth; the Adamses sixth; and the Bushes seventh. Other families like the Frelinghuysens of New Jersey and the Breckinridges of Kentucky piled up points for many years in Congress.

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The first Bush to attain major political office was George P.’s great-grandfather, Prescott Bush, a banker active in GOP fundraising. He was elected to the Senate from Connecticut in 1952 after narrowly losing an initial bid in 1950. Re-elected in 1956, he retired in 1962 after serving for 10 years.

His son, George H.W. Bush, moved to Texas where he lost Senate races in 1964 and 1970, won a House seat in 1966 and 1968, and later served as Republican national chairman, ambassador to China and director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He was elected vice president in 1980 after a failed presidential bid and, eight years later, won the presidency. But he served but a single term before his defeat by Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992.

His son, George W. Bush, regained the White House for the GOP in 2000 after losing a 1978 House race and winning two terms as governor of Texas, going on to serve two terms as president. Brother Jeb served eight years as Florida’s governor after an initial defeat before he unsuccessfully sought the White House in 2016.

After George W. Bush left office and Jeb was mulling his bid, their outspoken late mother Barbara Bush indicated she didn’t think that was a good idea. “We’ve had enough Bushes,” she said in 2013 on NBC’s Today show.

National Republican voters agreed in 2016. Now, Texas Republicans have seconded that motion, probably ensuring the end of the greatest modern GOP dynasty.

Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at [email protected]

©2022 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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