Jeb and Hillary: Meet You at the Biltmore

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Mitt Romney is out of the running, and Chris Christie seems like a dead man walking. So, if only by default: Jeb Bush is the winner of the Republicans’ rich-guy pre-primary.

Bush’s triumph is meaningful, but not conclusive. Unlike Wall Street, the G.O.P.’s base is having doubts about sending a third Bush to the White House. To secure the nomination, Bush would need to defeat the Anti-Bush, whoever he may be and, in the process, find an audience beyond America’s boardrooms, and his father’s and brother’s backers.

Bush’s drive will be further complicated by his own family’s ties to the Clintons. Bush 43 has affectionately called Hillary his sister-in-law. Before announcing the formation of Jeb’s exploratory committee, the Bushes gave the Clintons a heads-up. On the hot button issues of immigration and education, Bush is closer to Clinton than to the Republican base. Oh, and one more thing: Bush, like Clinton, is intimately familiar with the glitz and muck that is Miami.

Among their points of intersection, both Bush and Clinton have strong ties to Gene Prescott and his Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, and that nexus may yet haunt Bush on his quest for the nomination. Bush keeps his office suite at the posh Biltmore, exercises in the hotel’s gym, and is Prescott’s workout buddy. Sounds innocuous enough, huh?

Not exactly. Prescott isn’t just some hotelier. Can you say “Lincoln Bedroom,” “Tony Rodham,” “Roger Clinton,” and “Russian Mob”? Good, I knew you could.

For starters, Prescott was one of the Clinton donors who back in the day overnighted in the Lincoln Bedroom. From there, things became a family affair.

In 1997, Hillary’s brother, Tony Rodham, while working as a consultant for a Prescott company, arranged a White House meeting for Yuri Luzhkov, Moscow’s mayor. At the time, Prescott’s company, IBN, was seeking to bring “smart” credit-debit cards to Russia and was hoping for the support of Luzhkov. Prescott knew Luzhkov wanted to meet with Clinton, and asked Rodham if he could set it up, this according to Rodham himself.

And it gets better; much better. Luzhkov had been accused of having links to Russian mobsters, and of having been involved in a dispute with an American businessman who was subsequently found murdered in Moscow.

As to be expected from the bazaar that was Clintonworld, Clinton’s National Security Advisor Sandy Berger met with Luzhkov, and the President also dropped by. One more minor detail, Prescott held an interest in Rodham’s company, Tony Rodham and Associates.

But, Prescott wasn’t just satisfied with befriending Hillary’s brother — he wanted to get to know Bill’s brother, too. Between January and November 1998, Seaway II Florida – another Prescott company — issued three checks totaling $20,000 to Roger Clinton, Bill’s sibling. According to Prescott’s lawyer, Daniel Ponce, Roger was paid for referring business to Tony Rodham, although neither Ponce nor Prescott could recall the specific referral.

Yet, despite it all, Bush rents space and works out with Prescott.

While Prescott is a Democrat, his wife, Ana Navarro, is a Republican, and a big Bush booster. In a January 18, 2014 tweet, Navarro let the whole world know of the esteem in which she and Prescott held Bush, while giving folks a glimpse of their ties to the Clintons. Per Navarro, writing in the terse language of Twitter:

As for the G.O.P. base, by contrast, Navarro holds it in considerably less than total admiration. In an interview with Buzzfeed about the Biltmore, Navarro had this to say, “But somehow, somewhere, it turned into this. The inmates have taken over the asylum.” Inmates? Asylum? Apparently, the feeling from the base toward Bush may be mutual.

The path to the Republican nomination will be anything but a coronation for Bush. Take Iowa for example. A recent Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll shows Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker leading the field, with Bush trailing in third. In South Carolina and Nevada, things aren’t much better for Bush. He’s is in fourth place behind Walker, South Carolina’s favorite-son Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Mike Huckabee in the Palmetto State, and is again running behind Walker in Nevada.

Over in New Hampshire things are only slightly better. A Bloomberg/Saint Anselm poll puts Bush ahead of Rand Paul and Walker, in that order. But an NH1 poll has Walker comfortably leading Bush.

Bush even has a problem in Florida. According to the latest Quinnipiac Poll, Bush barely ekes out a tie with Clinton, despite the fact that for eight years he was the Sunshine State’s governor.

It is way too early to predict how and where Bush and the Republicans will end up. The field is fluid, and well-populated. The candidates are from being vetted. You never know what spectacular revelations are going to make the news.

Nonetheless, Bush’s problems with the base won’t be disappearing anytime soon. He has already waffled on the matter of opposing tax increases, which is near holy writ in the GOP; he says that he could accept tax increases in a hypothetical deficit-cutting deal. If history is a guide that approach toward taxes doesn’t end well. Bush 41’s shot at reelection in 1992 ended the moment he reneged on his “no new taxes” pledge.

Bush has also said that illegal immigration isn’t a crime, but an act of “love,” and characterized it as “ridiculous” to think that DREAMers should not have an “accelerated path” to citizenship. Again, that’s not where the Republican Party is. After President Obama praised America for becoming a “hodgepodge,” there’s no way immigration will disappear as an issue. Reality or not, them is fighting words.

Bush is the son and brother of presidents, and Clinton was once a First Lady. When Bush and Clinton look into the mirror they see the other staring back. For Bush and Clinton, Prescott and the Biltmore are just two more totems in the looking glass, dangling like dice over a dashboard in a race to the White House.


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