The Danger of Dynasties

There is a growing prospect that the 2016 presidential race will have Mrs. William Jefferson Clinton facing the son of George H. Bush and brother of George W. Bush.  The danger of dynasties in American politics is real, and it is growing. 

Although the 2014 election saw five Democrats, all the children or grandchildren of politicians, lose elections (both Senate and the gubernatorial nominees) in Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Georgia, Democrat dynasties did not suffer at all outside the South.  The governors of New York and California, both the sons of past governors of those states, won re-election easily. 

The problem with political dynasties – and it is a problem – is not limited to Democrats.  Lisa Murkowski’s dad was governor of Alaska, and even a champion of liberty like Rand Paul is the son of longtime House member and presidential contender Ron Paul. 

The great conservative champions – Coolidge, Goldwater, and Reagan – did not produce dynastic successors.  (One modest exception: Maureen Reagan did once run for the Senate in California.)  Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln left no legacy of relatives to carry their policies forward.

Dynasties are by their very nature contrary to conservative values.  The thought that Jeb Bush, the son of one president and the brother of another president and the grandson of a senator, might be the next Republican nominee ought to trouble us all. 

I do not share the rancor of many conservatives toward Jeb Bush the man, or toward the Bush family.  I believe that the two Bush presidents and the prospective Bush Republican nominee love their families, treasure their honor, and consider themselves patriots trying to help America.

Rather, I believe that all dynastic nominees are inherently “Establishment,” and all tend to view America as needing, for its own good, aristocratic guidance and protection.  As myopic as Washington is already, this sort of insider government produces candidates who are as tone-deaf about real America as possible.  (Mrs. William Jefferson Clinton proves that every time she opens her mouth.)

Most of these family members live in a world of politicians, lawyers, and lobbyists.  With rare exceptions, they have never lived in the real world of commerce or farming or industry or energy production.  Politics and law are generally the sources of family wealth and professional identity.  Moreover, these families either are rich or soon become rich in Washington.  This is exactly the opposite of what America needs today.

Almost unnoticed, the problem of dynastic families is capturing both major parties.  Consider this: if Jeb Bush gets the Republican nomination in 2016, then seven out of the last nine Republican tickets will have had a “Bush” at the top or bottom of the ticket.  What makes this more troubling is that one of the two tickets that had no “Bush” instead had Mitt Romney – son of Governor George Romney, who sought the Republican nomination in 1968 – headlining in 2012.

If Mrs. William Jefferson Clinton is the Democrat nominee in 2016, then a “Clinton” will have been at the top of three of the last seven campaigns and a “Gore” will have been at the top of one other ticket.  Assuming that Mrs. Clinton and Jeb Bush lead their party tickets, then this is the number of times, out of 14 tickets (7 for each party) that dynastic families have been at the top of the ticket: Bush (5), Clinton (3), Gore (1), and Romney (1).  If that happens, then one of the two candidates, the one who wins 2016, will be on the 2020 ticket as well.  Should Jeb win, then in 2020, a “Bush” will have been on the Republican ticket in every presidential election in the prior forty years, except for Dole (1996), McCain (2008), and Romney (2012) – and Romney, again, is part of another dynasty. 

We ought to reject any dynastic candidate in 2016.  Self-made men are extraordinarily popular with the people.  With the single exception of FDR, every landslide by either political party in the last one hundred years has been won by a self-made man: Harding (1920), Coolidge (1924), Eisenhower (1952, 1956), LBJ (1964), Nixon (1972), and Reagan (1980, 1984).

If Democrats want to nominate Mrs. Clinton, who shows every single indicator of dynastic arrogance and selfishness, this is fine.  But let us choose a Scott Brown or Ted Cruz or Bobby Jindal or John Thune or any of the other Republicans who live in the real world and understand the need Americans have for real hope and real change, the kind of promise that never comes from tired old dynasties.

There is a growing prospect that the 2016 presidential race will have Mrs. William Jefferson Clinton facing the son of George H. Bush and brother of George W. Bush.  The danger of dynasties in American politics is real, and it is growing. 

Although the 2014 election saw five Democrats, all the children or grandchildren of politicians, lose elections (both Senate and the gubernatorial nominees) in Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Georgia, Democrat dynasties did not suffer at all outside the South.  The governors of New York and California, both the sons of past governors of those states, won re-election easily. 

The problem with political dynasties – and it is a problem – is not limited to Democrats.  Lisa Murkowski’s dad was governor of Alaska, and even a champion of liberty like Rand Paul is the son of longtime House member and presidential contender Ron Paul. 

The great conservative champions – Coolidge, Goldwater, and Reagan – did not produce dynastic successors.  (One modest exception: Maureen Reagan did once run for the Senate in California.)  Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln left no legacy of relatives to carry their policies forward.

Dynasties are by their very nature contrary to conservative values.  The thought that Jeb Bush, the son of one president and the brother of another president and the grandson of a senator, might be the next Republican nominee ought to trouble us all. 

I do not share the rancor of many conservatives toward Jeb Bush the man, or toward the Bush family.  I believe that the two Bush presidents and the prospective Bush Republican nominee love their families, treasure their honor, and consider themselves patriots trying to help America.

Rather, I believe that all dynastic nominees are inherently “Establishment,” and all tend to view America as needing, for its own good, aristocratic guidance and protection.  As myopic as Washington is already, this sort of insider government produces candidates who are as tone-deaf about real America as possible.  (Mrs. William Jefferson Clinton proves that every time she opens her mouth.)

Most of these family members live in a world of politicians, lawyers, and lobbyists.  With rare exceptions, they have never lived in the real world of commerce or farming or industry or energy production.  Politics and law are generally the sources of family wealth and professional identity.  Moreover, these families either are rich or soon become rich in Washington.  This is exactly the opposite of what America needs today.

Almost unnoticed, the problem of dynastic families is capturing both major parties.  Consider this: if Jeb Bush gets the Republican nomination in 2016, then seven out of the last nine Republican tickets will have had a “Bush” at the top or bottom of the ticket.  What makes this more troubling is that one of the two tickets that had no “Bush” instead had Mitt Romney – son of Governor George Romney, who sought the Republican nomination in 1968 – headlining in 2012.

If Mrs. William Jefferson Clinton is the Democrat nominee in 2016, then a “Clinton” will have been at the top of three of the last seven campaigns and a “Gore” will have been at the top of one other ticket.  Assuming that Mrs. Clinton and Jeb Bush lead their party tickets, then this is the number of times, out of 14 tickets (7 for each party) that dynastic families have been at the top of the ticket: Bush (5), Clinton (3), Gore (1), and Romney (1).  If that happens, then one of the two candidates, the one who wins 2016, will be on the 2020 ticket as well.  Should Jeb win, then in 2020, a “Bush” will have been on the Republican ticket in every presidential election in the prior forty years, except for Dole (1996), McCain (2008), and Romney (2012) – and Romney, again, is part of another dynasty. 

We ought to reject any dynastic candidate in 2016.  Self-made men are extraordinarily popular with the people.  With the single exception of FDR, every landslide by either political party in the last one hundred years has been won by a self-made man: Harding (1920), Coolidge (1924), Eisenhower (1952, 1956), LBJ (1964), Nixon (1972), and Reagan (1980, 1984).

If Democrats want to nominate Mrs. Clinton, who shows every single indicator of dynastic arrogance and selfishness, this is fine.  But let us choose a Scott Brown or Ted Cruz or Bobby Jindal or John Thune or any of the other Republicans who live in the real world and understand the need Americans have for real hope and real change, the kind of promise that never comes from tired old dynasties.