Like so many conversations on the radio dial-in show, this one got out of hand fast. In the time it took me to drive from one set of traffic lights to another in downtown San Antonio on Tuesday night it went from ‘Should we be taking this candidate seriously?’ to ‘He’ll be a shoo-in for the White House in 2024.’ Slow down there, cowboy.
The topic was primary election day in Texas. Results were just trickling in. Plenty were important, notably sorting out who would run in November for governor to replace Rick Perry – Greg Abbott, Republican, against Wendy Davis, Democrat.
And would Senator John Cornyn survive a Tea Party challenge? (He did.) But this was about the race to be the Republican nominee for Land Commissioner. The winner by a mile was a certain George P Bush.
George P is the son of Jeb Bush, one-time governor of Florida, and nephew of George W. He has already shown he can raise prodigious amounts of money – more than $3.5m just for his primary campaign. He is handsome, articulate and, most compellingly, half-Hispanic and bilingual. His mother, Columba, is from Mexico. Land Commissioner might not be a sexy post but it has traditionally been a stepping stone in Texas to greater things.
Matt Mackowiak, a conservative Republican consultant in Austin, agrees the radio jocks were getting a bit ahead of themselves with their loose White House talk. Their theory was that in 2024 it would be a race of the dynasties, George P versus Chelsea Clinton. “I know George well enough to know he is not plotting in that way,” he assured me. At the same time, he means to keep this particular Bush scion, still just 37 years old, firmly on his radar.
“He seems right now to be an unstoppable force,” Mr Mackowiak offered yesterday, calling his fund-raising prowess “a reflection of the potential that major donors see in you”. Bush, who has taught inner city kids in Miami and served in Navy Intelligence in Afghanistan, is expected easily to defeat Democrat John Cook in the general election in November.
His supporters hope he will become the new, more inclusive, face of the Republican Party in Texas, if not eventually nationally, not least because of his half-Mexican heritage.
Nothing is more urgent than repairing its standing with the fast-growing Hispanic community if it is to stop Democrats regaining control of the state.
“We don’t have to change our conservative principles to win, we just need to change our tactics,” he told a primary night victory party near his home in Fort Worth. Alternating between English and Spanish, his mum by his side on the stage. “You’ll see that we have Tea Party friends, that we have mainstream conservatives, we have strong Latino support and a lot of younger voters.”
This George still has a long way to go to prove himself in Texas let alone on a national stage and things beyond his control could speed him on his way or stop him dead. His best chance of accelerated advancement, Mackowiak suggests, is Texas Senator Ted Cruz becoming president or vice president in 2016. His seat could be for George’s taking.
And the man best positioned to stymie his advance? His own father. What if, also in 2016, dithering Jeb is finally persuaded by party grandees to run for the White House and actually wins? Three men named Bush taking turns in the Oval Office would be one thing. But then a fourth after that? What’s Spanish for “enough already”?