George P. Bush: A Bush can survive in Trump political world

DALLAS — George P. Bush was talking about his future political plans — and how Donald Trump wouldn't reshape them — when two women approached, giddy with excitement.

They wanted pictures with a man whose photogenic smile once landed him on People magazine's most-eligible bachelors list. Up close, though, they saw something unexpected.

"You look like your dad," Ruth Ann Pratt, a retired college math teacher from Lake Jackson, near Houston, finally exclaimed. "You turn slightly to the side, and you ARE your dad."

Bush only smiled. These days, being associated with his father, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, may not be such a great thing.

Eighteen months after he was elected Texas land commissioner and a few weeks past his 40th birthday, Bush is quietly continuing his family's legacy. The grandson of one former president and nephew of another, he remains a rising star in America's largest conservative state and is keeping alive the possibility that a political dynasty declared dead by many when his dad flamed out of the presidential race could yet again return to national prominence.

What remains to be seen, though, is if a third George Bush can survive in a political world turned upside down by Trump — where Republican primary voters overwhelmingly have embraced the ultimate outsider who promises to smash the political establishment the Bushes embodied for decades.

"Regardless of what comes at me, I'll be prepared," Bush said of the possibility his last name has shifted from GOP royalty to a liability.

In an interview during the recent Texas Republican Convention in Dallas, Bush said that, like his father, grandfather and uncle, he isn't endorsing Trump or attending the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Bush said he was part of a national conservative movement concerned about Trump's candidacy.

"He has the ability to win us over if he clarifies many of his remarks and he demonstrates that he has humility and that he doesn't besmirch peoples' character as the motivating factor for why he's running for office," Bush said.

Pointing to his own sons, ages 1 and 3, he added: "I want them to be able to look at the Oval Office and see the presidential seal and say, 'That is somebody who I look up to.'"

Trump says being shunned by the Bushes proves he's not beholden to Washington powerbrokers. And Bush's hesitation to embrace Trump hasn't appeared to cost him much in Texas and beyond — at least not yet.

Joe Brettell, a former GOP congressional staffer now based in Houston said "George P. has one of the brightest political futures in the country."

"He is absolutely on any smart Republican's radar,"Brettell said. "When the party begins to rebuild after Trump, Marco Rubio and George P. Bush will be two people that they look at as a blueprint for potential good times ahead."

Bush said he's not worried since "I believe that Texas is unique and its politics are separate from what's happening nationally."

"This isn't a smaller state where potentially there's more consolidation behind another candidate," he said.

Texas' GOP establishment has long seen Bush, whose mother was born in Mexico and who speaks fluent Spanish, as a potential powerhouse — especially for Hispanics, who will become the state's majority population by around 2030.

The land commissioner's office has sometimes led to better-known posts. It's hard to imagine Bush challenging Texas' popular and ideologically similar Gov. Greg Abbott, in a 2018 Republican primary. But Bush, an attorney, could be a favorite in the state's race for attorney general. Texas's current attorney general, Republican Ken Paxton, is facing felony securities fraud indictments that may complicate the re-election bid he's vowing to mount in two years.

Bush, however, says he has "every intention of running again for the General Land Office, but my priorities right now require my focus to be on the here and the now."

His agency oversees the state's publicly held land, roughly 13 million acres, and administers mineral rights leases to oil and gas companies, which has generated nearly $17 billion for public schools.

Still, in speeches, Bush is quick to mention national issues. Addressing Texas' Republican Convention, he offered a message directly to President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential front runner Hillary Clinton.

"You want to regulate our jobs? You want to take our land? You want to control our guns and our rights? You want to run our schools? You want to take over our state?," Bush asked. "No! Way!"

Emmy McDaniel, a Texas GOP delegate from Pflugerville, just north of Austin, said of Bush: "We're going to hear a lot more from him in the future."

"He's going to be sidelined a little with what happened with his dad," she said. "But, in the long term and for many years, I think he'll be running for bigger offices."