As several Republicans eye the Oval Office, many of their fathers are casting a sometimes-unfavorable shadow on their sons.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have heavily relied on their dads to help propel them into office in the past. And in Paul’s and Bush’s cases, dad was able to help son tap into an already established network of donors for support. But in some cases, dad’s support may be a blessing and a curse.
“All three candidates live in the shadows of their father,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. “… Indirectly or directly, the father’s reputation can become part of others’ campaign against them.”
In the case of Paul – who officially announced his 2016 presidential bid in Louisville on Tuesday – father Ron Paul, the former Texas congressman and twice-failed presidential candidate, looms large. It was largely the elder Paul’s grassroots organization, libertarian support and name recognition that propelled his son to a surprise victory in the 2010 Senate race. But in trying to win the GOP nomination and eventually the 2016 general election, the senator has taken more moderate positions than dear old dad. For example, when Russia invaded Ukraine, the younger Paul called for U.S. sanctions while his father outspokenly argued America had no business there. The Kentucky lawmaker has said he wants to reform the National Security Agency while his dad wants to get rid of the organization completely.
As such, perhaps it should be no surprise that while Ron Paul was in attendance Tuesday, he did not have a speaking role. In the past, the pair has stumped for each other many times, and frequently given joint interviews.
Rand Paul has at times also grappled with some of his dad’s more controversial views. He came under intense scrutiny when running in 2010 when he suggested he didn’t back Title II of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits private businesses from discriminating against customers based on race. The senator walked back the remarks, but it has continued to be a point of contention.
Of course, the Pauls are two different people with different voting records and opinions. But the younger Paul has spent much time during his career in politics applauding his father’s message, which could put him under scrutiny as he tries to win over a bigger base.
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He’s not the only one. There’s also Jeb Bush, who has actively sought to distance himself from both his brother and father, former Presidents George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, promising to be “my own man.” Yet Bush has used his family’s network to raise money and even his growing team of foreign policy advisers include approximately 20 veterans from past Bush administrations.
Zelizer noted that while the American public has feelings of “good will” toward H.W. Bush today, his record isn’t all roses. Many conservatives still haven’t forgiven Bush Classic for breaking his “Read my lips” pledge not to raise taxes. And in today’s anti-tax, tea party-fueled America, that could be the kiss of death for Jeb.
The associations with his brother could be even worse. George W. Bush left office with near historically low approval levels, and is still reviled by much of the country.
Finally, there is Ted Cruz. His father, Rafael Cruz, a Cuban-born pastor, has been one of his son’s most vocal supporters– stumping on behalf of his son and appearing alongside him at conservative events. But his dad has also proven to be a liability, earning a reputation of being loose-lipped with declarations like “Obama is a Marxist,” that he should go “back to Kenya,” and calling gay marriage a government conspiracy.As Jeanne Zaino, a professor of political science at Iona College and of political campaign management at New York University, notes, the family conundrum isn’t reserved just for politicians with famous fathers. Take, for example, Hillary Clinton, who will inevitably have to deal with her husband Bill Clinton’s legacy as a former president. Bill Clinton, who remains very popular, brings many positives to the campaign, but he also has baggage, like in 2008 in South Carolina when he was accused of making race a campaign issue as his wife was running for president.
Zaino said that while candidates can capitalize on what their family has done in the past, it’s a double-edged sword. “How do you control a father or a spouse or a mother? It’s a very difficult thing to do,” she said.