All in the fam: For Hillary & Jeb,4 tips on dynasty politics

Postby truthteller » Thu Jun 11, 2015 6:29 pm

WASHINGTON — For Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, presidential politics is all in the family.

And that is both one of their biggest political assets and one of their biggest political problems: The family ties that helped launch their electoral careers also threaten to entangle them as they pursue the White House themselves.

The complications will be spotlighted during the next few days as Democrat Hillary Clinton holds her opening rally in New York on Saturday — with husband Bill Clinton by her side for the first time at a 2016 campaign event — and Republican Jeb Bush formally announces his candidacy in Miami on Monday.

Even in the campaign's early days, Hillary Clinton has become ensnared in questions about fundraising by the foundation her husband founded after leaving the White House. Jeb Bush has struggled to explain his view of the war his brother, George W. Bush, launched in Iraq that continues to bedevil the current White House occupant.

What should they do?

We talked to political strategists, historians and an expert in family-owned businesses to devise four keys for candidates who have to manage ties that bind.

Clinton has the benefit of experience, not all of it happy, from her efforts during the 2008 primary campaign to keep her husband on message. Last month, she delivered a speech in South Carolina — a stop that may have helped repair any lingering hard feelings among African-Americans from comments Bill Clinton made that seemed to denigrate Barack Obama's primary victory in the state.

Clinton and Bush aren't alone in having to deal with the issue in 2016. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is the son of former Texas congressman Ron Paul, a three-time presidential candidate. His libertarian following has provided a national political base for his son, but some of his views on foreign policy, including a call to end aid to Israel, have raised questions his son has had to address.

Dynasties have been part of American politics from the start, as witnessed by John Adams and John Quincy Adams, the father-and-son pair who served as the nation's second and sixth presidents.

That said, the prospect of another Clinton-Bush showdown in 2016 would break new ground.

The narrative has a soap-opera air: The wife of the man who defeated then-president George H.W. Bush's bid for a second term would be facing Bush's son — who also happens to be the brother of the candidate who won the White House in an election against her husband's vice president. An election that was determined, by the way, by a disputed vote count in the state where the governor just happened to be one who is now running for president.

Perhaps all that shouldn't a surprise, given the tendency of some families to foster offspring who follow their parents as doctors or plumbers or journalists. Someone named Kardashian might be likely to consider reality TV as a career path, for instance. Or with a name like Smuckers, you could be drawn to the jelly-and-jam business.

If your family business is politics, here are four keys to making that work:

1. Talk about tomorrow, not yesterday.

"They've got to make their ideas and their campaign about the future and avoid the past at all costs," says Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist who managed Howard Dean's presidential campaign in 2004.

As even presidential incumbents have discovered, voters care more about what a candidate will do for them in the future than what he or she has achieved in the past. That's especially true when the record being debated isn't their own. The most important issues change — this time around, growing concern with income inequality, for instance, and the rise of the Islamic State — as does the political landscape.

For that matter, so do the voters themselves. The elder George Bush was elected to the White House in 1988, which was 27 years ago. Bill Clinton was first elected president in 1992, 23 years ago. Some of the millennials who will be voting next year weren't even born then.

For them, past presidents may be more historical figures than political lodestars.

2. Find an issue on which you are happy to disagree with your husband/brother/father.

"Any of these candidates, like any leader in a family business, has to figure out their public identity ... or you risk living in the shadow of the first-known person," says Patricia Angus, who teaches at Columbia Business School and advises family-owned businesses.

"The candidate has to find a place where they differ from those people in a way that helps them," Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary for President Obama, said in a recent interview. "Carve out some views that you're happy to explain."

Hillary Clinton already has been doing that.

Her husband claimed as a major achievement the 1994 crime bill; she now proposes rolling back minimum mandatory prison sentences. He signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states; she embraces a constitutional right to gay marriage. He signed NAFTA, the last big free-trade agreement; she refuses so far to take a position on the Pacific trade deal the Obama administration is negotiating, even though she hailed it as "the gold standard" in last year's memoir about her time as Obama's secretary of State.

But Jeb Bush has struggled, even on the most predictable question of all: Would he have ordered the invasion of Iraq, as his brother did?

In the space of four awkward days, he answered yes, then maybe, then demurred before wending his way to a modest no. "Mistakes were made," he finally said.

3. Take advantage of the advantages.

For all the problems famous predecessors can cause, they also represent huge political assets. The electoral paths for Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush were facilitated by their family names. They start this campaign with nearly universal name recognition and established networks of donors and supporters to tap.

"Certainly it can draw a crowd, and it can raise some money," says Stephen Hess, a veteran of the Eisenhower and Nixon White House staffs who is now at the Brookings Institution. He compares it to corporate branding. "You inherit your family's reputation, good will and so forth. Hell, if you keep going back to Ivory soap and Procter & Gamble products because they've given you good service before — some of that applies" in politics as well.

In researching his book, America's Political Dynasties, Hess tried to calculate precisely how much a relative who has won office has been worth to a fledgling pol.

"If he's in Congress and you had that name, it might have been worth a seat in the state legislature or the city council," Hess says. "If he's president, it might be worth a seat in the House." That was true for Franklin Roosevelt's two sons, both of whom ran for Congress and won. But there are limits. "They had to take the next step on their own" for other offices "and both were defeated."

Keeping too great a distance could be as big a mistake as staying too close. While George W. Bush left the White House in 2009 with sagging approval ratings, his standing among Republican voters in states like Iowa continues to be high.

And then-vice president Al Gore's decision to hold Bill Clinton at arm's length in the 2000 campaign in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal was "a fatal mistake," says Sandy Berger, Clinton's national security adviser.

"Had he used Clinton more, he'd be president of the United States and not George Bush," Berger told a forum this month at the Bipartisan Policy Center. "He lost the state of Arkansas. If he had won the state of Arkansas and lost Florida, he would have been president. Now I will assure that if Bill Clinton had been (campaigning for) that ticket, he would have won the state of Arkansas."

4. Keep them quiet, or at least on message.

"For these campaigns, you have to have good communications to spouses and mentors that they're on message as they can be," Gibbs says, adding, "That was clearly a problem for Hillary in 2008."

Rand Paul seated his father in a place of prominence at his presidential announcement in Louisville this spring, but he didn't give him a speaking role. George W. Bush publicly urged his brother to run, including in an interview last November with USA TODAY. "I think he'd be a superb president and I think he'd be a very good candidate," he said.

But since then, he's made it clear he plans to stay out off-stage.

"You know the Bushes can shut up," Hess says. That may be harder to do with Bill Clinton, who has done more interviews and answered more reporters' questions since his wife formed her campaign committee than she has.

The day after Hillary Clinton's rally Saturday, the featured guest on CNN's State of the Union?
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