POLITICS

Jeb Bush Friends Say Whether He'll Run For President Depends On His Wife, Columba

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his wife Columba on the inaugural stage January 20, 2005 in Washington, D.C.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his wife Columba on the inaugural stage January 20, 2005 in Washington, D.C.  (2005 Getty Images)

Several years ago, Columba Bush was at a Republican women’s gathering in Jacksonville, Florida, looking like she wanted to bolt for the exit.

Tom Slade Jr. – former chairman of the Florida GOP and a friend of Columba and her famous husband, former Gov. Jeb Bush – recalled how she seemed utterly ill at ease.

Her dislike of being in the spotlight, and at events where people go to see who’s there and to be seen, is well-known among those who know the Bush couple.

Columba Bush, who is 60, has endured it, Slade told the Washington Post, because the high-profile world of politics is one her husband revels in, like a fish in water.

He recalled her saying “Jebby really does love politics, so I can’t stand in his way.”

But whether that also goes for being on-board with her husband, who is 61, running for president in 2016 is, for the moment, anyone’s guess.

Jeb Bush’s eldest son, George P. Bush, recently said in an interview with Fox News that his father will look at the impact a run for the presidency in 2016 would have on his family before deciding whether or not to throw his hat in the ring.

Bush said his father would likely evaluate “the rigors on family life” as well as how a presidential campaign would fit in with his role as a businessman.

“He is leaving the option open, but he will make his assessment later in the year,” said the younger Bush.  “He hasn’t indicated one way or the other. I think he is assessing it seriously.”

Columba and Jeb, who have been together for 40 years, met in her native Mexico in the early 1970s when he was an exchange student there. They regularly speak to each other in Spanish, various published reports note.

She is a staunch, albeit behind-the-scenes, advocate for Latinos, telling the Gainesville Sun many years ago that she often has pointed out to the political family dynasty the important contributions of Latinos.

She has unwittingly found herself in the cross-hairs of Latino issues and political missteps of the family into which she married.

When her father-in-law, George H. W. Bush, referred to her and Jeb’s children as “the little brown ones,” she conceded to a Florida newspaper that she found the backlash and media attention on her family “overwhelming.”

“It was a challenge,” she was quoted as saying. “But it turned out to be a great experience. What that made me do was start to promote Mexican art. I wanted Hispanics to be proud of their culture, to not be ashamed of being brown.”

A more overwhelming, and painful, time in the limelight came when her daughter, Noelle, was arrested in 2002 for buying prescription drugs in a fraudulent manner, and again later for hiding crack while she was in court-ordered drug rehabilitation, according to the Washington Post.

A presidential campaign, those who are close to Jeb and Columba say, could open those wounds and put their daughter, who has kept out of the news ever since, back under media spotlight – a price her parents may consider too huge.

“I did not ask to join a famous family,” Columba is quoted as having said many years ago. “I simply wanted to marry the man I loved.”

At the same time, her role as Florida’s first lady gave her a platform to advocate for causes she considers important, such as substance abuse and domestic violence.

“Columba is not in any way power-ambitious,” said Rafael A. Peñalver Jr., a Miami lawyer who is friends with the couple, according to the Post. “She’s supportive and will stand by him, even taking roles that are not in her nature.”

Other friends, many of them unnamed in the Post story, said in no uncertain terms that Bush will not run for president if Columba has reservations.

“The family issues are Columba 1, 2 and 3. It’s whether she’s up for it,” one friend said.

Another added, “She’s cognizant of what a campaign would be like, and she would have to come to terms with that. He’s not going to do it over her objections.”

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