Current Republican hopeful never thought he was favored within family over his brother, George W, who won two terms

Jeb Bush , facing a potentially make-or-break debate in Milwaukee on Tuesday night, never accepted the widespread view that his family groomed him for the White House ahead of his brother, a new book claims.

It has often been suggested that Jeb, then seen as more studious and serious than elder sibling George W, was his parents’ favourite and regarded by their inner circle as the natural political heir.

But a biography of former president George HW Bush published on Tuesday contains denials by both father and son. “If I were ‘The One’ no one told me about it,” Jeb is quoted as saying by biographer Jon Meacham. “I didn’t get the memo. And the relationship between George and Dad is incredibly close and loving.

“I’ve always been bemused by people who state as fact that which is highly speculative, or untrue, which happens a lot. I don’t think my mom and dad think that way — ‘He’s the one, more than that one.’ Literally I never had a conversation about that. Ever. I’d say in terms of topics of conversation in the Bush family: family; sports; and then . . . well, that’s about it.”

The Jeb theory came about, Meacham argues, because he finished college, married and settled down quickly, while his brother was more restless and rebellious. “Put another way, Jeb, though seven years younger, grew up faster,” the book observes, quoting former secretary of state James Baker as among those who thought Jeb would be the one to carry on the family tradition in politics.

But George HW Bush, now 91, was blunt in his response to the theory that Jeb was singled out for preferential treatment, telling his biographer: “The whole idea that Jeb was the favourite one because he was more knowledgeable — that’s all bullshit. Nothing to it.”

Jeb’s long family history has dogged his election campaign so far and he has been forced to lay off staff and cut salaries while his poll numbers nosedive. After a weak performance at the last Republican debate against the likes of Ben Carson, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, he is under huge pressure to bounce back in Milwaukee and reinvigorate anxious supporters .

Jeb has endured bitter disappointment before, the book recalls, as he lost the election for governor of Florida in 1994. The defeat was all the more pungent because George W, seen as more of a long shot, won the poll for governor of Texas on the same night.

Meacham writes: “‘The joy is in Texas,’ the forty-first president told reporters, ‘but our hearts are in Florida.’ As George W recalled, ‘To some, his reaction was surprising. Not to me. It was typical of George [HW] Bush to focus on the person who was hurting.’

“In late November 1994, on the evening of the day of the groundbreaking for Bush’s presidential library in College Station, Barbara and Jeb sat down for a talk over supper at the Post Oak Grill in Houston. ‘It kills me that he hurts so,’ Barbara wrote in her diary. ‘He worked so hard and so long. I know he was exhausted from being such a good sport and, I’m sure, seeing GWB with all the praise and state troopers must give him a twinge.

“‘He told me that the one great joy he had election night was that George won. At one time he asked me “How long was it going to hurt?” That killed me.’ Barbara and Jeb went back to the Bushes’ house to find George W, who had just finished exercising and was having a bowl of cereal. Jeb sat down, and their mother left her two eldest sons talking in the night.”

Earlier, the book tells how Jeb spent several months on a student service trip in Mexico in 1970-71 and met and fell instantly in love with Columba Garnica de Gallo , a child of a broken home. During Christmas 1973 he announced that he and Columba were going to marry. Commentators have seen Bush’s Mexican wife, and his ability to speak Spanish, as potential assets in the Republicans’ attempt to reach Hispanic voters.

But Meacham’s biography revives an unhappy 1988 incident relating to Jeb and Columba’s children. George HW Bush, then vice-president, introduced his three Mexican-American grandchildren to president Ronald Reagan as “the little brown ones” , triggering negative media headlines.

Bush senior later wrote in his diary: “One thing in my heart is that I did say to the president, ‘Those are our grandchildren over there — the little brown ones,’ pointing out which ones [they were] and wanting them to come over and speak to him with great pride; but the press picked it up on the loudspeaker, and then tried to make it that I’m insensitive to Hispanics. It kills me, [and] the worst thing is I’m afraid I might have hurt little George [P], whom I love more than life itself.”

Jeb’s devotion to his family is also described. His daughter, Noelle, has struggled with drug addiction and served 10 days in jail after she was found hiding crack cocaine in her shoe during a stay at court-ordered drug rehabilitation. Recalling Jeb’s inauguration after he was reelected for a second term as Florida’s governor in 2002, George HW Bush wrote: “There Jeb stood, the most loving, caring father in the world, standing in front of his addicted daughter saying he’d do better, he’d do more. It broke my heart; and I saw out there in the crowd many other faces with tears in their eyes. Everyone knows that Jeb has given his kids, especially Noelle, his unconditional love. Her addiction has broken his heart but he will always stay at her side, loving her, caring for her and praying for her.”

The book, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, also relates how Jeb did an about-turn over Bush senior’s vice-president Dan Quayle. “While the liberal columnists and editorial writers denigrate him (the same folks who rip you apart regularly), he has scored big with our base vote,” Jeb wrote in a memo dated 2 June 1992.

However, as it became clear that Bush was facing defeat against Bill Clinton in the presidential election, both his sons argued that Quayle should be dropped. George W Bush suggested replacing him with Dick Cheney; Jeb called from Florida “saying he’s had calls from many real conservatives and Christians saying that we ought to get rid of Quayle”, his father told his diary.

Jeb was more successful, however, in persuading George W Bush not to jump the gun and declare victory prematurely in the disputed 2000 election against Al Gore. The 43rd president recalled: “He took me aside and said, ‘Don’t do this.’ He was right. I trusted his judgment.” © Guardian News and Media 2015