Barbara Bush, not the former First Lady, but the daughter of former president, George W. Bush, has said that Hillary Clinton is “unbelievably accomplished” and hopes she will run for president in 2016. It’s about as close to an endorsement as a Bush could give a Clinton and surely qualifies as news. Former First Lady and former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is a member of the Democrat Party. Barbara’s father and grandfather were former presidents and both are Republican. Her uncle, former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, is also a Republican and a possible candidate for president in 2016.
If Ms. Bush eventually endorses Secretary Clinton, it would not be the first time that a son or daughter of a president supported a candidate of the opposing political party. Ron Reagan, Jr. and his sister Patti Davis, both offspring of Republican president Ronald Reagan, are openly Democrats. Mr. Reagan addressed the Democrat National Convention in 2004
Democrat president, Franklin Roosevelt, had sons, who supported candidates and causes other than his own. John Aspinwall Roosevelt, the youngest in the family, complained openly about the New Deal and became a high profile Republican. He endorsed Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan for president. In 1954, when FDR, Jr. ran for governor of New York, his brother, John endorsed his Republican opponent. Meanwhile, Jimmy Roosevelt, the eldest of FDR’s sons, led “Democrats for Nixon in 1972.” FDR’s son, Elliott, worked for FDR’s lifelong enemy, William Randolph Hearst. When his father announced he would run for an unprecedented third term as president, Elliott told friends it should be unconstitutional.
Political and cultural differences between the generations is nothing new in political dynasties nor should it be surprising to the rest of us. Each member of a family seeks a separate identity and that is often found in differing political views. Helen Taft Manning, daughter of conservative, Republican president, William Howard Taft, was one of the most effective leaders of the Women’s Suffrage Movement and openly Democrat on many issues. Barbara Bush is an advocate of Marriage Equality and other gay issues and has “partnered” with the Clinton Health Access Initiative and Michelle Obama’s “let’s Move” campaign.
Children of presidents have often played a role in helping a candidate get elected and govern. Robert Tyler, son of the tenth president, John Tyler, helped promote the career of Pennsylvania congressman, James Buchanan, who became the fifteenth president. James Garfield, son and namesake of the twentieth president helped Theodore Roosevelt win the presidency. His younger brother, Harry Garfield, helped elect Woodrow Wilson. Both of the Garfield sons became cabinet officers with distinguished careers. In all three cases the Presidents’ children not only offered a powerful endorsement, they had inside knowledge and experience that was crucial to the success of the candidates.
Help from a presidents’ son or daughter is not always rewarded. After he won the White House, James Buchanan shunted aside Robert Tyler whose presence was a reminder of his early political struggles in Pennsylvania. Tyler moved to Alabama, became a newspaper publisher and passed from the public eye with dignity never complaining about the thankless role he had played and the president’s shabby treatment.
Caroline Kennedy nearly suffered the same fate. Her endorsement of Illinois Senator Barack Obama came at a crucial time in his race with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. Kennedy, a political and social icon, gave Obama cache when he needed it most. But the Obama White House staff chaffed at the idea they owed their election to Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the slain president, and derailed attempts to reward her. If Barack Obama had not been re-elected in 2012, the Kennedy endorsement would have gone down in history as one of the greatest unpaid political debts in modern campaign history. But Obama won re-election, some measure of sanity returned to the Obama White House and Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the 35th president was nominated Ambassador to Japan.
It remains to be seen if Barbara Bush will formally endorse Hillary Clinton for president. Most Bush watchers doubt it will happen until her uncle Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, officially declares his non candidacy. If not, this statement is probably even better for Clinton, at least from a political standpoint. It adds to the idea of Clinton’s broadening support without tying her to a president who is unpopular with her base. It is the ultimate irony. Having been sunk by one presidential daughter, a Kennedy, she now finds herself buoyed by another, a Bush.