WASHINGTON - Former U.S. President George W. Bush has emerged from a self-imposed hiatus from the American political scene to try to boost his younger brother Jeb's bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
George Bush attested to his brother's character and called for voters to reject the rhetoric of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump during a rally Monday night in the southeastern city of Charleston.
Without mentioning the billionaire real estate mogul by name, Bush said "These are tough times and I know that Americans are angry, but we do not need someone in the Oval Office who mirrors and inflames our anger and our frustrations."
Bush took the stage with his wife, Laura, in Charleston in the state of South Carolina, where Republicans are holding a key presidential primary election on Saturday. The one-time American leader had stayed away from politics since leaving office in 2009 after two terms in the White House, but is now making appearances to support Jeb Bush's flagging campaign.
George Bush and his father, George H.W. Bush, each won two Republican primaries in South Carolina, and the family has strong political ties in the state.
Jeb Bush sparred sharply with Trump at a debate last Saturday over his brother's legacy as the U.S. commander in chief who took the United States to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after the 2001 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York.
Jeb Bush is telling voters that his brother kept America safe.
But the flamboyant Trump mocked that claim, drawing a chorus of jeers from Republican supporters at the debate.
"The World Trade Center went down during the reign of George Bush," Trump said. "He kept us safe? That is not safe."
He went on to describe the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a "big, fat mistake," saying: "They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. And there were none."
Jeb Bush retorted, “I could care less about the insults Donald Trump gives to me. ... I am sick and tired of him going after my family.”
South Carolina win seen as crucial
Both Bushes are the sons of another former U.S. president, George H.W. Bush, who served one term in the White House, from 1989 to 1993. Both of the Bushes who became president won bruising party nominating elections in South Carolina in the lead-up to their eventual national election victories.
Jeb Bush has collected millions of dollars in campaign donations from Bush family supporters, but struggled to win support from rank-and-file Republican voters angered at political gridlock in Washington. Polls have shown, however, that George W. Bush still holds wide appeal among South Carolina Republicans, which could help sway some support for his brother.
A CBS survey of South Carolina Republicans released Sunday showed Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor, in fifth place with six percent, far behind Trump's 42 percent. A conservative firebrand, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, was in second place with 20 percent, followed by Florida Senator Marco Rubio with 15 percent and Ohio Governor John Kasich with nine percent.
But the poll was taken last week, after Trump's convincing win in the New Hampshire primary, but before he engaged in a heated exchange of words Saturday with Jeb Bush at a Republican debate.
South Carolina Democrats are voting in their presidential primary Feb. 27.
The CBS poll showed former secretary of state Hillary Clinton with a commanding lead in the state over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who has aimed his campaign rhetoric at the financial clout of Wall Street titans.
Clinton narrowly edged Sanders in party caucuses in the farm state of Iowa, but Sanders routed her a week ago in the primary election in the northeastern state of New Hampshire.
The next Democratic contest is Saturday in the western state of Nevada, where the party is holding presidential nominating caucuses.