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May 02, 2014 11:56 AM The Agony of the Pioneers

By Ed Kilgore

It’s often hard to empathize with people whose backgrounds and life experiences are so very different from one’s own. So it is with the small but important cadre of wealthy and successful people for whom the Bush presidencies were a golden age, the focus of a strangely fascinating piece by Michael Barbaro and Nick Confessore in the New York Times today. Having united to save Mitt Romney’s bacon in 2012, these quintessential “Republican Establishment” donors were all lined up to force Chris Christie on surly and rebellious conservative activists in 2016. But now Christie’s problems and renewed talk of a Jeb Bush candidacy are agonizing them, according to this account.

At risk for Mr. Christie is not just the electoral affections of Bush loyalists, but also the backing of a still-potent national network of wealthy Republican donors and bundlers who propelled three Bushes to high office and who provided Mitt Romney with an overwhelming fund-raising advantage in 2012.
While many have retired from active politics, those who remain constitute a hyper-loyal and energetic band of brothers (and sisters). Many of them served as so-called Rangers and Pioneers within the vaunted hierarchy of Bush fund-raising, and went on to plum appointments and ambassadorships in George W. Bush’s two administrations.
Even a decade later, former Rangers and Pioneers heavily populate the ranks of the party’s elite bundlers, a group that the party’s 2016 aspirants began courting almost before President Obama was inaugurated for his second term. Several said they would continue to evaluate the field — unless, that is, Mr. Bush steps in.
“I have great affection for Christie,” said Mel Sembler, a Florida real estate developer and Bush donor who is among the top Republican fund-raisers. “He’s done an amazing job as a Republican governor in a Democratic state. But I have great loyalty to that family because they brought me into the political arena, and I’ll be supporting Jeb Bush if he decides to run.”

Indeed, Christie himself is part of the Bush Family Camelot saga:

Mr. Christie is intimately acquainted with the Bush Brigade, as its members call themselves: It gave him his start in national politics. Mr. Christie; his brother, Todd; and [top Christie advisor William] Palatucci were prodigious fund-raisers for George W. Bush. Mr. Bush went on to appoint Mr. Christie — a Bush Pioneer in 2000 — as the United States attorney for New Jersey, transforming him from a relatively obscure lawyer and failed local candidate into a high-profile corruption-fighting prosecutor.
Mr. Palatucci was among the Bush alumni who traveled to College Station, Tex., last month to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the first Bush presidency, a gathering where some attendees slyly addressed Jeb Bush as Mr. President.

In reading about these people, I’m reminded of the Clinton-era reminiscences of White House retainers Linda Tripp and Gary Aldrich, who looked back on the Poppy White House as an era of good taste and gracefulness (and in the FBI agent Aldrich’s mind, “body-conscious” athleticism) that was being ruined by the slobs brought into power by Bubba. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

But while Tripp and Aldrich were confined to vengeful attacks on Clinton, many of their contemporaries rose to great power and wealth, and they are the ones tempted to essay a second Restoration of the glory days:

“They feel good about Jeb,” said Barry Wynn, a fund-raiser for George W. Bush and a former chairman of the Republican Party in South Carolina. “They don’t have any questions about his integrity.”
The family name, he said, remains a powerful draw. “They love the Bush family,” Mr. Wynn said. “They love the whole package, and they feel Jeb is just a part of the package.”

I’d say a majority of Americans, even those who have voted for a Bush or two, have somewhat more ambivalent feelings about “the whole package.” But then they aren’t members of a tight-knit donor community that feels a responsibility to name the Next President of the United States.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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