-- The Hilton Americas in Houston was abuzz. Behind closed doors were two former U.S. presidents, called in to help the latest Bush to run for the office to resuscitate his ailing campaign.
Donors descended on the city of the Bushes for a celebratory event with Republican candidate Jeb Bush and his family, including father George H.W. Bush, brother George W. Bush, mother Barbara, wife Columba, and two sons. The goal: to reassure an anxious donor base that their guy is still viable and able to regain his footing in an unsure race. According to donors inside, there was no mincing of words.
"It feels like a campaign that acknowledges that they have to change course to navigate the political landscape that was different," longtime GOP strategist and ABC News contributor Ana Navarro said.
Jeb Bush has tumbled in national polls, and last week his campaign announced widespread cuts, slashing salaries and travel costs, and letting go of some consultants. He presented his case before donors, acknowledging that there was a long road but assuring them that he was prepared.
"Jeb is fired up, ready to go. I definitely see a fire in the belly that a lot of people feel is missing. This is a man that is reading the polls and knows what he’s got to do," said one donor in attendance.
One of the big reinforcements to make the case was Bush's older brother, George W. Bush. This afternoon, the two men sat for a lighthearted conversation, moderated by Jeb backer Helen Aguirre Ferré.
The 43rd president and his brother laughed about the past, joking about their mother's white hair. It was ebullient as ever. At one point as they discussed Jeb's mastery of the Spanish language, the elder Bush joked, "I got a 50-word vocabulary. And if you alter the words around it makes me sound fluent."
But he stayed on message, calling his brother a "fierce competitor," and using the opportunity to talk Jeb's handling of hurricanes and thoughts on religious liberty. He echoed the campaign's central theme: that Bush's experience and record make him more qualified than anyone else.
"Put it in the campaign slogan, 'A proven leader,'" he told the crowd of about 175 people.
Earlier in the day, as donors munched on bagels and yogurt, campaign manager Danny Diaz and top adviser Sally Bradshaw treated the crowd to a 45-slide presentation as they tried to assuage donor's fears that this campaign may be unsustainable. They detailed strategy and shared a bit of history.
"You know who was leading this time in 2012? Herman Cain, Mr. 9-9-9,” said one donor, as he spoke of what he learned.
Another slide called Marco Rubio "a GOP Obama." And while Rubio was among the most mentioned here, a day before, Right to Rise, the super PAC supporting Bush, brought up several candidates, delineating between those they thought were not going to win (Donald Trump is an example) and those that were "in Bush's lane," such as John Kasich.
Super PAC chief Mike Murphy also discussed strategy and advertisements, making the case that their efforts were focused on when voters vote, not when they poll, emphasizing a heavy focus on Super Tuesday and beyond.
Representatives for both the campaign and Right to Rise insist that two separate events were held, as per FEC standards, but, as it has always been between campaigns and the organizations that support them, lines can appear to be blurred. The donor bases can be mostly the same, and most drifted from event to event.
Many flew in from out-of-state to celebrate with the family. The 41st president attended both days, he and Barbara Bush holding a reception on the first day. While some have supported the Bush family for years, one donor said he was surprised with how many Jeb loyalists were in the crowd. He discounted the notion that the donor base is weary of a candidate who has fallen far from his frontrunner status.
"The fact that they're here, don't think they needed to be reinvigorated," the donor said.
And if there's anyone who’s sure about Jeb Bush's prospects, it's the woman who once said that there had been "enough Bushes in the White House."
During her sons' conversation, Barbara Bush had the last question. She responded to her boys' comments on her white hair.
"How do you think I got white hair," she said.
And for her final thought, she said what she thought should be obvious.
"Jeb is going to be the next president," she declared.
The crowd went wild.