During the 2004 election, Democratic candidate John Edwards encountered a huge problem. It wasn’t his stance on education, or his foreign policy, or his take on healthcare. It was his haircut. The Washington Post revealed that Edwards regularly spent $400 on haircuts, and even spent $1,250 once on a single trim. This baffled voters, especially given that Edward’s hair was stylish, but basic. Nothing any third-grader with a pair of scissors couldn’t pull off.
Edwards lost, and the message was clear: if you’re seeking the approval of millions of Americans, you need to come across as an average American yourself. This may be doubly important as the country emerges from a recession.
Enter Columba Bush, the wife of former Florida Governor, and current 2016 hopeful, Jeb Bush. Though largely a private woman, Bush has one flashy habit that makes her stand out: a jewelry addiction that would make Elizabeth Taylor blush.
Documents recently obtained by the Washington Post show that the former Florida first lady has spent tens of thousands of dollars on jewelry over the years. Some purchases occurred during trips abroad, but most were made at a store in South Florida called Mayors Jewelers.
“The embarrassment I felt made me ashamed to face my family and friends,” Columba Bush said during a 1999 speech to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. “It was the worst feeling I’ve ever had in my life.”
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) January 13, 2015
The embarrassment in question was a five-day trip to Paris in which she was found to have spent $19,000 on jewelry.
But no matter how red-faced she may have been, less than a year later, Columba Bush was at it again, spending $42,311 in a single day at Mayors Jewelers.
In 1997, Columba Bush spent $15,000 on a Roman coin necklace and $16,600 on a diamond-studded Rolex. “A Crown for Every Achievement,” reads Rolex’s slogan, and to that end, Mrs. Bush bought another Rolex during the 2000’s. Costing a much more reasonable $11,700, it paired wonderfully with the $5,900 earrings she bought on the same day.
All in all, Mayors Jeweler’s filings report that Columba Bush spent a total of $90,000 at their store alone, within a 14-year period.
All of this is fine, of course. The Bush’s are a wealthy family who live within their means. Still, even aside from the fact that such lavish spending could alienate voters, the jewelry represents other problems with for a Bush candidacy.
Firstly, many of these purchases were made on store credit. Mrs. Bush took out loans in excess of $42,000 in order to carry out her purchases, rather than pay cash. While certainly not illegal – and perhaps not even uncommon – spending a small fortune through credit may contradict the Republican Party’s self-proclaimed title as the beacon of fiscal responsibility.
How sincerely can Jeb Bush grandstand against the national debt when his family still has two Rolexes to pay off?
Secondly, Columba Bush found her own spending habits so embarrassing that she lied to federal customs officials. Remember that Paris trip? Mrs. Bush misled customs about her $19,000 haul. Lying about what you’re bringing into the country is, in some cases, known as smuggling. While Mrs. Bush never faced criminal charges, the incident became a headache not only for Jeb – who paid $4,100 in fines – but also for brother-in-law George W., who was beginning his run for president at the time.
“It’s a lot of money,” Jeb said at the time. “But look, that’s between her and me.”
That may be, but if Jeb hopes to woo millions of Americans with much more modest tastes, Columba Bush may want to stick with the jewelry she has. Or start digging for rings in Cracker Jack boxes.