By MICHAEL BARBARO and NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
MAY 1, 2014
Jeb Bush’s increasingly serious and public examination of a run for president has shaken the ranks of establishment Republican donors and fund-raisers who had planned to back Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey in 2016, forcing many of them to rethink their allegiance to the embattled 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 him, not to Mr. Christie, according to interviews with more than two dozen of them.
Nowhere is the consternation greater than among the hundreds of top donors and so-called 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.
Mr. Christie and Mr. Bush have not officially declared their 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 as chairman, which began in November.
The presidential chatter is “irrelevant to us,” said William J. Palatucci, Mr. Christie’s top adviser and a former law partner. “You know it’s out there, but it’s just not part of our conversation.”
Mr. Bush’s public flirtation with a White House bid, however, has interrupted Mr. Christie’s carefully honed plan to rebuild the faith of donors shaken by a series of high-profile controversies and resignations within his administration.
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.
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 Mr. 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.