The Bush and Clinton clans are likely to run for president again, like a ‘Game of Thrones’ season but without Hollywood casting or Irish locations.
This time, the bear-size Jeb Bush, a former governor of Florida, is taking the lead position while his immediate family and their legions of retainers and wise men cheer and hope.
The tireless Hillary Clinton is leading her clan, with a multitude of subclans of Hollywood lords, Silicon Valley princes and New York and Washington nobles, all entranced by the savvy of former President Bill Clinton and the power of President Barack Obama.
The crowning puzzle of the anticipated 2016 presidential race: Why has the United States, a country born from the rejection of kingship, come to elect royal families during the last century?
At least since the Roosevelt clan dominated the first half of the 20th century, the national vote has endorsed the feverish, garrulous, unchecked arrogance of special families just as if there were such a thing as constitutional bloodlines. Starting from the Cold War, the Kennedy clan rose out of Boston to dazzle the electorate with three brothers who collectively sought the presidency three times over 20 years and who have passed on their magic to descendants and acolytes.
Now we watch the resilient Bush and Clinton clans circle each other while staging public events with the same operating guideline: Avoid speaking of the presidency while you are speaking of nothing but.
“It’s such a difficult decision,” Hillary Clinton told ABC News in December 2013, “and it’s one that I’m not going to rush into.”
“Not running has generated more interest than if I was running,” Jeb Bush told Fox News in April 2014.
The public events of the two contestants for the Oval Office throne belie their statements. The generational splendor of the Bush clan was displayed in separate events over the last several weeks. First, the Las Vegas potentate Sheldon Adelson beckoned Jeb Bush for an elaborately staged audition for the 2016 nomination at Adelson’s Venetian Hotel.
Also, former president George W. Bush opened an exhibit of paintings, “The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy,” that displays opaque interpretations of overseas clan leaders such as Tony Blair of the British and Vladimir Putin of the Russians.
Meanwhile, alumni of George H.W. Bush’s administration gathered at his namesake presidential library in College Station, Texas, to celebrate the quiet successes of the patriarch 25 years after his inauguration. Days later, George H.W. Bush surprised many when he, in his wheelchair, joyfully greeted Barack and Michelle Obama in Houston, where the current president would attend two fundraising feasts.
In times of troubles, America seeks comfort in inheritors who were once touched by the spark of a first family or its adopted sons.
Simultaneously in New York, Hillary Clinton demonstrated her electioneering authority at Tina Brown’s annual Women in the World confab as she offered advice, especially to women in public service. “You need to be well-educated, prepared and willing to take your chances when they come your way,” the former senator and secretary of state said. “Cut yourself a little bit of slack.”
Soon she made her own trip to Las Vegas and gained applause when she deftly recovered from a shoe-throwing prankster during a well-attended policy speech.
The Bush clan is cagily cautious, concerned that another run for the White House may invite public weariness. This would be the family’s sixth presidential campaign since 1980. “There are a lot of great families, and it’s not just four families or whatever,” the matriarch of the clan, Barbara Bush, quipped in 2013. “There are other people out there that are qualified, and we’ve had enough Bushes.” More recently, she reversed her observation, calling Jeb Bush “the most qualified person in the country” to be president.
It is a happy irony that the Olympian potency of Clinton’s candidacy for the Democratic nomination helps Jeb Bush’s candidacy immensely. He need do no more than nod to Clinton to fend off questions about a presumption to the throne: The Clinton inevitability balances the Bush inevitability.
I am told by party critics that Bush is using a political timetable that will boost his bid. By making controversial remarks now about immigration, education, the tea party and the stalemate in Washington, he can test his strength with the party base as well as in the early primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.
For example, Bush has been tactically shrewd in his remarks on immigration, calling illegal entry into the U.S. “an act of love.” GOP pundits know that the party must solve the immigration quandary. If his daring language holds up in party debate after the November midterms, then the Bush clan will know his presidential campaign for 2016 is well-founded.
Clinton’s ascendance is so clear-cut that it suggests imperial succession. Lesser candidates such as Vice President Joe Biden, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and even California Gov. Jerry Brown can merely contribute to the primary debates as loyal foils.
Bush faces credible opposition from sectional standouts such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and perhaps feverish booms by freshmen Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. However, the Bush clan is immediately a heavy favorite, with the fundraising star power of two former presidents, two former first ladies and the deep experience of 12 collective years in the White House (20 if Bush Sr.’s years as vice president are included).
How has the American republic come to this pass? The historical record says that in times of troubles, America seeks comfort in inheritors who were once touched by the spark of a first family or its adopted sons. Theodore Roosevelt empowered Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR elevated Joe Kennedy. Joe Kennedy directed the presidential success of John F. Kennedy. The Clintons still draw power from the sparkling instant when JFK took 16-year-old Bill Clinton’s hand in a 1962 Rose Garden reception.
The Bush family enjoys a direct blessing from Ronald Reagan, whom the Bush clan served like adopted kin until its succession to the White House. In his memoirs, Reagan wrote that he drew his authority in large part from his profound admiration of the leadership of FDR, especially his fireside chats: “His strong, gentle, confident voice resonated across the nation with an eloquence that brought comfort and resilience to a nation caught up in a storm and reassured us that we could lick any problem. I will never forget him for that.”
The maneuvering in both parties supports the conclusion that elite agents are preparing to fight 2016 using their most historical actors, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. Like institutional investors, the big money players in U.S. politics feel safe and secure with brands that have already triumphed. Obama, a historical figure as the first African-American president, aims to support his legacy by throwing his voice behind possibly the history-making first female president. At the same time, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush will put their shoulders to the task of making history by becoming the first family with three presidents.