Who Next Among the Disgruntled for Obama?

A report circulating through Washington last week said that former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill and former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman William Donaldson would soon join other high-profile economic elites in endorsing Barack Obama for President.  The others likely to join the Obama team are,  former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, and billionaire Warren Buffett.

What makes O’Neill and Donaldson newsworthy is that they are not only Republicans but alumni of George W. Bush’s Administration.  This is clearly the kind of “Republican for Obama” that the liberal media loves: having served the outgoing Administration and now willing to support a Democrat publicly.

However, it should also be pointed out that both are disgruntled Bush alumni–particularly O’Neill — and were always suspect in the minds of conservatives.  O’Neill was, in effect, fired by the President after the ’02 elections.  The former Cabinet official (who Bush had nicknamed “The Big ‘0’”) was the subject of a book by Ron Suskind, in which he derides the President’s intellect and charged that Bush  decided  to make war against Iraq long before the war on terror was declared and Iraq invaded.  He also feuded with conservative Administration members who backed the President’s policy of tax cuts.

Donaldson, one-time undersecretary of state under  Richard Nixon and special assistant to Nelson Rockefeller when the New Yorker was vice president, is someone clearly identified with the diminishing camp of Republican liberals.  His partner in the Wall Street firm of Lufkin, Donaldson, and Jenrette was Harvard Business School classmate (’58) Dan Lufkin, a prominent leader of liberal GOPers in Connecticut during the 1960’s.  After leaving the SEC, Donaldson joined those who were skeptical that the Bush economic agenda of lower taxes would work, telling PBS interviewer Bill Moyers (October 12, 2007) that "I think the sharing of the benefits of a society are increasingly disproportionate. You talked about people being upset and feeling–. That’s because, you know, they read every day about the fantastic profits being made by hedge fund managers and so forth.”

“Nothing new” was my reaction upon hearing the report about O’Neill and Donaldson joining with Rubin, Volcker, and Buffett to boost Obama.  In May, the Wall Street Journal reported that William D. Ruckelshaus, head of the Environmental Protection Agency under Presidents Nixon and Reagan, was a “Republican for Obama.”  Ruckelshaus, since his days in the Indiana legislature in the 1960’s, has been considered a decidedly less-than-conservative Republican; many old hands in the Hoosier State still note that he lost a close Senate race to Democrat Birch Bayh (father of present Sen. Evan Bayh) in 1968 while good-as-Goldwater conservative Edgar Whitcomb rallied their party’s conservative base and was winning the governorship handily.  For many years, Ruckelshaus and wife Jill (best known as a pro-abortion and pro-ERA advocate) have been distancing themselves from an increasingly conservative GOP.  An endorsement of Obama was a predictable “final cut.”  (When I called from Indiana to breathlessly tell my editor about Ruckelshaus endorsing Obama, his response without missing a beat was “Are you sure he’s still alive?”).

Will there be more among the disgruntled Republicans for Obama?  Sure.  As to who’s next, stay tuned.