COLLEGE STATION, Texas — More than a hundred Republican Party elders gathered this weekend in Texas to celebrate George H.W. Bush's legacy. But many of the event's participants had another, much simpler agenda: launching a Jeb Bush presidential campaign.
The two-day festivities featured a widely covered speech by Jeb. And on the sidelines, former Bush retainers were frank about their hopes that the eldest son could save a party the family has led on and off since 1988.
"We have a responsibility to make sure Jeb runs," said longtime Bush adviser Andy Card after the speech.
"If Jeb Bush does not run, shame on us." Card added, "I would work in a Jeb administration in a heartbeat."
"Look at all of us," said another former campaign aide, Jill Collins, excitedly motioning to an auditorium filled with former ambassadors, appointees, and cabinet members. "We are all ready to fundraise and start planting yard signs. We have all done it before and we will do it again."
Jeb's speech was punctuated by a weekend of nostalgic backslapping and rosy recollections of a utopian Washington under George H. W. Bush, back when "we" were in charge. Mixed among the shoulder rubbing of James Baker, Bob Gates, Karl Rove, and the Bushes themselves was one general consensus: The Obama administration is a nightmare and Bush world has the answer.
While the Bush family itself has largely refrained from opining about the Obama presidency, the weekend's library crowd did not. Panelists laughed off "hope and change." An elderly woman sighed as Bush was wheeled past a procession line, "Oh, I remember when we had a real president."
"What is happening right now is really unthinkable," said Jim McGrath, George H.W. Bush's official spokesperson. "It is very disappointing. Not passing a budget would have never stood under George [H.W.] Bush."
McGrath, who has worked three decades for Bush, lamented what he called the current lack of presidential leadership and accused the administration of not meeting Constitutional duties. "The idea that you would not meet your Constitutional responsibilities, you would not tell the American people, 'These are the priorities we're going to fund,' would be unthinkable for the 41st president."
McGrath contrasted every criticism of the Obama administration with how the "Bush brand of leadership" would solve things. "What is happening right now in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, the overspending," McGrath argued, "we would hit that head on because it cries out for presidential leadership."
"Those of us who support [H.W. Bush] know that he was worthy of a second term," McGrath said. "The Bush style of leadership needs to return to Washington."
The criticism in the halls of the Bush library extended beyond Obama to other GOP contenders, too.
Just before a joint Fox News hit, sitting in a leather armchair beside Joe Trippi, John Sununu called New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie an "easy target." He could "never win a GOP nomination."
Democrats are praying for a presidential run by Sen. Ted Cruz, Sununu went on. Trippi agreed.
But, at the end of an expansive, marble hallway in the George H.W. Bush Library, they were also in agreement about something else: Jeb Bush.
"I clearly want the Democrats to win in 2016, but Jeb will be a real problem for us," Trippi, the former Howard Dean campaign manager said. "He is really impressive."
Sununu one-upped him, "If Mitt Romney had had the Jeb package, we would have won in 2012."