TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Former President George W. Bush is quietly helping boost Republican candidates in places where President Donald Trump has struggled. In so doing, the former two-term president is raising his profile, ever so slightly, in the national politics he eschewed for years.
On Wednesday, Bush held an event in Fort Worth, Texas, for Republican Rep. Will Hurd in a congressional district Trump lost in 2016. On Friday, Bush is set to appear in Florida, which Trump narrowly carried in 2016, on behalf of Gov. Rick Scott in the state’s expensive Senate race.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who will also attend the Scott event, said in an email that his brother “is helping Senate candidates across the country.”
These events are a focal part of Bush’s re-emergence in national politics ahead before the Nov. 6 election that will help determine control of Congress.
Another former president, Barack Obama, also has come off the political sidelines for the upcoming midterms.
Both parties have much at stake. Democrats want to capitalize on Trump’s unpopularity and gain the 23 seats they need to regain a majority in the House and launch investigations of the administration and, potentially, impeachment hearings.
Republicans are increasingly concerned about their ability to fend off Democrats aiming to retake the Senate and win complete control of Congress.
The presence of Trump looms large over the elections. He has pledged to campaign as many days as possible to help Republicans defend their majorities, including in Texas, where Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is defending his seat against a strong challenge from Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
The president has demonstrated that with one Tweet, he can sway the fortunes of Republicans who dare cross him. That puts Republican candidates in places where voters don’t love Trump in sticky positions.
So Bush is stepping in, officials in Washington, Florida and Texas said. Doing so could help with voters such as independents and women who want Congress to stay in Republican hands.
“We’re beyond grateful that President Bush is helping in the fight to keep the House,” said Matt Gorman, spokesman for the House Republicans’ campaign committee. “His support of accomplished members like Will Hurd are critical to our effort.”
The GOP chairman in Florida, Blaise Ingoglia, said Bush will be a “plus” for Scott’s bid to defeat the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson.
“There are still plenty of people in the state of Florida who love and admire President Bush,” Ingoglia said.
It’s not Bush’s first move back toward national politics.
Bush re-emerged with a message that echoed with politics at the Sept. 1 funeral of Arizona Sen. John McCain in Washington. The late senator had asked Bush and Obama to give eulogies.
Trump wasn’t invited to the service and his name was rarely mentioned in the speeches, but collectively the ceremony was seen as a rebuke by official Washington of his divisive approach to the presidency.
“John’s voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder: We are better than this. America is better than this,” Bush said from the pulpit of Washington National Cathedral.
The Bush family has long had a complicated relationship with Trump.
During the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Trump said Jeb Bush was “low energy” and argued that George W. Bush had failed to keep the nation safe after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Trump didn’t attend the funeral this year of Barbara Bush, the wife and mother of former presidents. First lady Melania Trump attended.
Both Hurd and Scott have tried to distance themselves from Trump.
A former CIA agent, Hurd criticized Trump in a New York Times op-ed in July after the president’s deferential news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin after their meeting in Helsinki. Trump, Hurd wrote, was guilty of a “failure to defend the United States intelligence community’s unanimous conclusions” that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.
“His standing idle on the world stage while a Russian dictator spouted lies confused many but should concern all Americans,” Hurd wrote. “By playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands, the leader of the free world actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to both our friends and foes abroad.”
Trump urged Scott to run against Nelson, but Scott has publicly kept his distance from the president. In April, Scott skipped a Trump discussion of the tax-cut package in South Florida, heading out of state to raise money for his Senate campaign instead.
In late July, Scott traveled on Air Force One with the president when he visited Florida. But the governor skipped Trump’s campaign rally held in Tampa, opting instead to hold a fundraiser in nearby Clearwater.
The governor split with Trump over the administration’s policy of separating families at the border but did not sharply criticize the president. Instead, he sent a letter to federal authorities calling for an immediate end to the policy and demanded that state officials be told about children brought into Florida.
Kellman reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report.