As the 2016 Presidential election fast approaches, two early front-runners for the Republican nomination will have to work to walk the fine like between having powerful fathers and wanting to run campaigns that prove they are different from them.
Jeb Bush and Rand Paul’s family legacies have certainly helped propel them to the top of the field of potential candidates for the Republican nomination. Both Bush and Paul are working to lay the groundwork that proves they are different from their fathers, former President George H. W. Bush and former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) respectively, while simultaneously trying to woo potential supporters and donors who identify with their famous last names.
In Jeffrey Alexander’s book, The Performance of Politics: Obama’s Victory and the Democratic Struggle for Power (pg 89), he says, “Insofar as social solidarity is civil, political victory cannot be won by appealing to bigotry, dogma, or family ties.” Clearly, neither Bush nor Paul can win on their last name alone, but they surely won’t win by alienating the core base that their fathers — and Bush’s older brother former President George W. Bush — have built up over the years.
In his first foreign policy speech since announcing his intention to run for president, Bush presented a strong stance on foreign policy, but also made a point to push back against his family’s legacy.
“My views will often be held up in comparison to theirs…sometimes in contrast to theirs,” he said in Wednesday’s speech at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Jena McGregor, a columnist for the Washington Post, said that Bush will likely have to address his family predecessors many times throughout the campaign.
“Yet Jeb Bush gets a double dose of it, and will be asked to address his family again and again. His great challenge will be to deal with the questions, the comparisons and the doubts head-on, without letting his campaign become more about his last name than himself,” she writes in a February 18 column, Jeb Bush and the art of distancing yourself from your family.
Paul, however, might have an even trickier line to walk. While both Bush 41 and Bush 43 were successful in their bids for the White House, Ron Paul was not. He is largely considered a candidate with rabid base support but no widespread appeal. The younger Paul will want to harness that base support from his father, but he will have to garner the widespread appeal that escaped his father.
During a recent trip to Nevada, Olivia Nuzzi, a reporter for The Daily Beast, writes that Paul “becomes visibly uncomfortable” when she mentions “how important Nevada had been in the past for Paul’s family.”
In 2012, Ron Paul won 22 of Nevada’s 25 delegates in his bid for the Republican nomination for President. Nevada prides itself on its libertarian values — having legalized prostitution and gambling — and Ron Paul was able to speak to those values.
Rand Paul now must continue to embrace those true believers and pull in folks outside of that base. He tells Nuzzi that his views are “libertarian-ish” rather than the straight-up libertarian values his father holds.
In Iowa last month, Paul worked to gather momentum from a state that was moderately supportive of his father. According to the New York Times, when Ron ran in Iowa, rallies were filled with the boots and blue jeans crowd, while Rand’s recent trip included a gathering of “young professionals still in jackets and ties from work.”
“I think I need to present my message, and it needs to be my message,” Paul told the New York Times.
According to the Times, “Some of his moves have angered libertarians who say he is getting too cozy with Republican leadership. His advisers, like their boss, make no apologies. “Rand is a Republican — a capital ‘R’ Republican,” said his senior strategist, Doug Stafford.”
Neither Republican can alienate themselves from their families because family values are, of course, important to Republicans and because their families can be great sources of money and base support, but neither Bush is remembered in particularly fond terms and the elder Paul lost both of his bids for the White House.
So what is a candidate to do?
The only thing he can, walk that boundary with trepidation and hope for the best.
Alexander, Jeffrey C. The Performance of Politics: Obama’s Victory and the Democratic Struggle for Power. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.