Gail Collins: Too many Bushes spoil the broth

Happiness is being on the Jeb Bush campaign mailing list. Recent highlights:

Sept. 27 – Columba Bush emailed to say she wants me to get to know the Jeb she knows, who is a person of principle. Also very tall. “But Friend, no one is going to see that side of him if he misses his critical End of Quarter fundraising goal of $200,000.”

Sept. 29 – President George H.W. Bush is in my inbox. The good Bush! He wants me to know that Jeb is ready.

Later that day …

Barbara Bush just wrote, asking me to donate some money. She admits she’s not as big into email as her son. (Jeb brags that he spent 25 to 30 hours a week emailing when he was governor. He has a book coming out about this and a lot of the messages seem to involve thanking people for writing.) Anyhow, the former first lady mentions that – although she has no idea why – her family calls her “The Enforcer.” I am not entirely clear on why she’s bringing that up. Is it a threat?

Sept. 30 – Oh, wow, they’re rolling out W. He feels Jeb “has what it takes to lead our nation.” Also, both he and Laura would really appreciate it if I send some money.

Later that day …

Jeb wants to make sure I caught his brother’s note: “Really thankful to have his support on this journey.” I think someday we should discuss the national tendency to describe everything as a “journey.” Journey is getting a bad name.

Oct. 4 – Big news from Jeb: He’s been talking with his parents, and they think it would be great if I could get to know them personally. “Today we’re launching a contest to fly one lucky winner down to Texas at the end of the month to meet Mom and Dad. All you have to do is chip in $1.”

Oct. 6 – Columba wants to make sure I got Jeb’s note about the contest to meet George H.W. and Barbara. “Jeb loves meeting his biggest supporters, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than flying you to Houston to meet the whole family.” She and Jeb are going to be there, too. Although not, apparently, W. and Laura. Maybe they’re on a different journey.

This is far from the first time a candidate for president has dragged the family into fundraising efforts. (By the end of the campaign, you’re going to see third cousins serving as honorary guests at $100-a-plate dinners.) And eventually, we’re going to have some serious conversations about Bill Clinton. But right now, we’re starting to get so many Bushes, the nation is in danger of becoming one large political hedge.

This week Jonathan Martin and Matt Flegenheimer reported in The Times that the Bush organization is seriously considering having George W. campaign for his brother in South Carolina, where people apparently look back on the invasion of Iraq as the best of times. South Carolina was a critical victory for W. in 2000, and I remember interviewing Republican primary voters who said they were going to vote for him because they knew if he got in trouble, his parents would straighten him out. It seemed sort of sweet at the time. Oh well.

The longer the race goes on, the closer Jeb seems to snuggle up to his older brother. We’ve come a long way from the “my own man” distancing epoch. After that, there was the arm’s-length era of “Well, I wouldn’t have expanded Medicare.” And then it was on to the fabled moment during the last debate when Donald Trump dissed W., and Jeb shot back: “You know what? As it relates to my brother, there’s one thing I know for sure. He kept us safe.” He then went on to mention the hugging of the firefighter at ground zero.

The World Trade Center was such a terrible, terrible tragedy that it seems unseemly to use it for political leverage in any way. However, if you’re going to bring it up, the accurate way to describe George W. Bush in relation to 9/11 would be something like, “The man who, despite the best intentions in the world, failed to keep us safe.”

Chances are, Jeb did envision a campaign in which he was the only Bush in sight. Just last month he told voters he knew he’d never get elected “by being the third Bush running for president.” But desperate times breed desperate measures. Very hard to go around bragging that you were a terrific Florida governor at the same time Florida Republicans are saying they’d much rather vote for Trump.

Plus, the big donors are getting restless. Dissatisfaction on the part of your former constituents is one thing, but there’s nothing worse than cranky oligarchs. Dangers abound. It’s a time when you need to see your kin flocking to the rescue. One person’s hedge is another person’s security blanket.