Inevitable: Rich GOP donors warn Christie that their first loyalty is to Jeb Bush

Can we really call it “news” if it’s something that everyone already knows?

Imagine if all the tea-party energy of the past five years ends up in another Bush coronation in 2016. I don’t know if the party would fracture. But it should.

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…

The family name, [Barry Wynn] 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.”…

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…

“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.”

I’m half-convinced they’d re-nominate Dubya if we somehow got the 22nd Amendment repealed.

Here’s the excruciating question for Christie and his supporters: If Jeb jumps in, do you jump out? More specifically, do you try to make a deal with Jeb to guarantee your future in his administration? Given the money and influence of Bushworld, defeating Bush for the centrist vote would be hard enough even for a Chris Christie at the height of his powers. For a Christie weakened by Bridgegate, it seems impossible. Not only would he have to win, he’d have to be respectful of Jeb in campaigning so as not to alienate Bush’s network of supporters in case he pulled the upset. That’d be hard to do given that Christie’s message would necessarily be some variation of “no more Bushes.” On the other hand, Christie’s term-limited as governor of New Jersey. He’ll be out of office by 2018, which is close enough to 2020 that he could probably try running that year if he doesn’t run this time — but of course, that’s contingent upon there being a Democratic president in 2020. Obviously, Christie wouldn’t primary President Jeb. If he passes on 2016, he’s taking a real risk that he’ll be out of politics in four years with no obvious path to any higher office before him. Maybe he could challenge Bob Menendez for Senate, but what are the odds of him defeating a Democratic incumbent at this point?

There’s a third possibility. Instead of running and losing to Jeb or sitting out the race and biding his time until there’s an opening again, what if he promised Jeb his enthusiastic support on the trail in exchange for a spot in his cabinet — maybe Attorney General, maybe VP, maybe something else. Bush would be grateful since that would all but clear the centrist field for him, and Christie would make a fine attack dog against Rand Paul and/or Ted Cruz on the stump. The vice presidency is probably out of the question since Jeb will feel pressure to unite the party with a more conservative pick, but AG is possible. And all of this would give Christie a way to stay in the political game, first as a top-flight surrogate for the eventual nominee and later as a cabinet officer with enough national experience to possibly run for president himself someday. Frankly, at this point, I’d be surprised if Christie didn’t pass once Jeb got in. Then Rubio will pass too, and we’ll be down to a de facto Final Four: Bush, Walker, Paul, and (maybe) Ted Cruz. Or would Walker pass too for fear of alienating the establishment by challenging King Jeb?

Exit question: If we do end up with that Final Four, does Jindal have a chance?