Jeb Bush—a man whose campaign has, one imagines, not followed the trajectory he hoped it might—has a new talking point: his daughter, Noelle, and her struggles with drug addiction, a subject he once explicitly requested the media not report on.
If the Republican primary seems like a pageant of addicted daughters, it’s because it is. Before Bush, Carly Fiorina—whose stepdaughter died of an overdose—eagerly made the narrative part of her public presentation. Both Bush and Fiorina have deliberately pushed their deeply personal accounts into the news cycle this week; Bush with a post on Medium and a follow-up interview with the New York Times, and Fiorina in a TIME op-ed.
But if Fiorina’s story, which tends to portray her as her stepdaughter’s primary parent (“I buried a child,” she often says), can seem overpackaged, Bush’s sudden transparency appears even more cynical: Emails in an archive he recently made public show that as governor, he explicitly asked the media leave her alone and not report on her addiction.
In 2002, Noelle Bush, then 24, was arrested on felony charges after she tried to fill a fake prescription for Xanax at a Florida pharmacy. Two months into her court-ordered rehab treatment, she was found with stolen pills from the center’s medicine cabinet and crack cocaine in her shoe. She ultimately served 10 days in jail.
Bush did address the scandal both in the press—there were whispers that Noelle Bush’s relatively light sentence may have been unduly influenced—and at that year’s Statewide Drug Summit, but his email shows he tried to dissuade at least one reporter from covering the story further.
In 2003, Mr. Bush grew frustrated with a Miami Herald reporter, according to emails obtained by The New York Times through a public records request. “The only reason you wrote the piece or were told to write the piece is that my struggling daughter is the child of the governor,” Mr. Bush chided the reporter. “It won’t matter in the whole scheme of things, but I wish the media would leave my daughter alone. It would make it a whole lot easy for her to recover and live a life full of hope and promise.”
At the time, Bush’s wife Columba seemed to agree: According to the Atlantic, a reporter asked her “whether Noelle’s problems were related to being part of a political family.” Her answer was affirmative.
“Absolutely,” she answered, before stopping herself.
And according to the Atlantic, not much has changed. Since her graduation from drug court, Noelle has stayed largely out of the public eye (the only recent coverage beyond her 2002 arrest was a Radar Online story noting she smokes multiple cigarettes a day at her job.) And Columba, at least, seems to believe the public scrutiny is bad for her daughter. Via the Atlantic:
Friends say that Columba’s biggest concern today is keeping Noelle stable and out of the public eye. Now 38, Noelle lives in Orlando, where she works at a software firm. By all accounts, she is okay but fragile. “Everyone’s happy with her progress,” says Cardenas, the family friend and old political ally. “Noelle is leading a normal life.”
And now she’s back in the public eye, as a peg for Bush’s drug policy platform. It’s hard to see what makes 2016 any different from 2002, other than the campaign.