Backers of Chris Christie are feeling a tug of loyalty as yet
another Bush -- Jeb -- ponders a possible bid for the presidency.
Jeb Bush's increasingly serious and public examination of a run
for president is roiling the ranks of establishment Republican
donors and fundraisers who planned to back Chris Christie in 2016,
forcing many of them to rethink their allegiance to the embattled
New Jersey governor.
In private conversations that are now seeping into public view,
some of them are signaling to Mr. Christie's camp that, should Mr.
Bush enter the race, their first loyalty would be to the former
Florida governor, not Mr. Christie, according to interviews with
more than two dozen of them.
Many of those who, because of geography and personal ties, were
expected to line up behind Mr. Christie say they now feel torn. It
is clear that Mr. Christie's recent troubles, especially the scandal
over bridge lane closings and traffic jams, is adding to the allure
of Mr. Bush.
Lawrence E. Bathgate II, a former finance chairman of the
Republican National Committee and a major donor in Mr. Christie's
home state of New Jersey, dreads the prospect of having to choose
between the two governors, calling it "a fraught decision."
David V. Hedley, a retired Wall Street executive and Republican
Party fund-raiser in New Jersey, also feels tugged in two
directions, conceding that "it's tough right now for me."
Christine Todd Whitman, the former Republican governor of New
Jersey, put it this way: "It would be awkward. It would be very
Nowhere is the consternation greater than among the hundreds of
top donors and bundlers who cut their teeth on Bush family political
campaigns. If Mr. Bush runs, they must choose between bucking their
ties to the first family of Republican politics, or turning their
back on Mr. Christie, who does not take well to disloyalty.
"Those of us that have been dedicated to the Bush family for
years would obviously have to take a Jeb candidacy into extremely
serious consideration," said Fred S. Zeidman, a Texas businessman
and top fund-raiser for George W. Bush's two presidential campaigns
who has helped introduce Mr. Christie to potential supporters in his
Neither Mr. Christie nor Mr. Bush has officially declared his
intentions for 2016. Mr. Christie's advisers say his political focus
this year remains on leading the Republican Governors Association,
which has broken fund-raising records during Mr. Christie's tenure
The presidential chatter is "irrelevant to us," said William
Palatucci, Mr. Christie's top adviser and former law partner. "You
know it's out there, but it's just not part of our conversation."
But Mr. Bush's public flirtation with a White House bid has
interrupted Mr. Christie's carefully crafted plan to rebuild the
faith of donors shaken by a series of high-profile scandals and
resignations within his administration.
Until Mr. Bush emerged as a potential 2016 contender, these
donors said, they had no real alternative but to hope for Mr.
Christie's successful rehabilitation from a season of controversies.
"They feel good about Jeb. They don't have any questions about
his integrity," said Barry Wynn, a fundraiser for George W. Bush and
former chairman of the Republican Party in South Carolina, who said
his phone rings nearly every day with calls from fellow state party
leaders talking up a possible Jeb Bush candidacy. …