In his first public campaign event on behalf of his brother, former President George W. Bush told South Carolinians that “there is no doubt in my mind that Jeb Bush has the experience and the character to be a great president.”
“The presidency is a serious job that requires sound judgment and good ideas,” the former president said, assuring the crowd that he was appearing here for two reasons.
“One, because I care deeply about Jeb,” he said, “and two, because I care deeply about our country.”
The event, at an arena just north of Charleston, was the largest since Jeb Bush announced his presidential bid with over 3,000 attendees. The former president made a forceful case for his brother, whose candidacy has yet to catch fire, offering, at times, a deeply personal assessment of his sibling’s qualifications for the White House.
“Jeb is a man of humble, deep and genuine faith,” the former president said. “Faith that reveals itself through good works, not loud words.”
The former president wooed the crowd with his unique brand of charm and self-deprecation.
"I've written two books, which has surprised a lot of people, particularly up east who didn't think I could read, much less write," he said. "I've been one to defy expectations. I've been misunderestimated most of my life."
On the campaign trail, Jeb Bush has been seeking to differentiate himself from the leading candidates, particularly billionaire businessman Donald Trump. His brother seemed to pick up that mantle today.
“This is a serious election for a serious job,” George W. Bush said.
And though he never mentioned Trump by name name, the message was clear.
"Strength is not empty rhetoric. It is not bluster. It is not theatrics,” Bush said, adding, "There seems to be a lot of name calling going on, but I want to remind you what our good dad told me one time. Labels are for soup cans."
He even invoked the Sept. 11: A not-so-subtle rebuttal to Trump’s criticism of his actions in the wake of the attacks.
In his remarks today, Jeb, who the former President introduced as his "little, big brother," was more direct, recalling Trump’s attacks on him and his family at Saturday night’s Republican presidential debate.
“I thought it was a little strange that a front-running candidate would attack the President of the United States who did keep us safe while he was building a reality TV show,” Jeb Bush said. (At the debate, Trump pointed out that "the World Trade Center came down during your brother's reign.")
The former president also recalled his own past campaigns in the Palmetto State, including a humorous moment when a protester unloaded a pile of manure outside an iconic South Carolina restaurant -- Tommy’s Country Ham House in Greenville -- where he was eating breakfast.
“Even a steaming pile of manure can't ruin their good bacon,” he said.
Until tonight, the former president had been supporting his brother mostly behind closed doors, including an appearance at a major donor summit in Houston last October.
"Since we left the White House I've been kind of quiet in the public square," he acknowledged with his wife, Former First Lady Laura Bush, nearby. "Eight years in the limelight was plenty."
But the two-term former president's message to voters here, who will go to the polls for the GOP primary in less than a week, was unmistakable.
"In my experience, the strongest person usually isn't the loudest one in the room," he said. "I've seen in my brother a quiet conviction and a core of conscience that cannot be shaken. And my hope is that the people of South Carolina will see this as well."
For some voters, the former president's support matters.
Tom Wickel, a Navy veteran who lives in Charleston, said that he wasn’t thinking of voting for Bush before today and that the president’s comments swayed him.
"Him being here showing support means a lot," Wickel said, "he didn’t have to."
And he discounted the notion that a third Bush would be problematic.
"His brother was a wartime president, if [Jeb] has a question, he can always call his big brother,” he laughed.