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Political Family Feuds: The Good, the Bad, and the Really Ugly

09/16/2013 07:16 pm ET | Updated Nov 16, 2013
  • Rich Rubino Author, 'The Political Bible of Humorous Quotations from American Politics,' 'Make Every Vote Equal What a Novel Idea,' and 'The Political Bible of Little Known Facts in American Politics'

The 2012 presidential election was the first since 1976 where a member of the Bush or Clinton families was not a presidential or a vice presidential candidate. However, the 2012 election may be an aberration in that former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush are potential presidential candidates for the 2016 election cycle.

Throughout American history, political family dynasties have not been uncommon. However, these families have not always acted in unison. In fact, in some cases American political families have been split asunder by divergent political loyalties. There have even been instances where husbands and wives have supported and campaigned for opposing candidates.

In 1888, the two major-party gubernatorial nominees in Tennessee were brothers. The Democrats nominated former U.S. Representative Robert Taylor (D-Tenn.). The Republicans nominated Robert's older brother, attorney Alfred Taylor. The two brothers remained on good terms and traveled together throughout the campaign. Bob said at one of their debates that the two brothers were "roses form the same garden." Accordingly, the race earned the moniker: "The War of the Roses." Robert later recalled of this peculiar race: "There were lots of old fellows who didn't vote for either of us, because they were friends of both, but I do not know of a single Republican vote that I got nor of a single Democrat vote that he got." Robert won this election by about 16,000 votes. The election was uncommonly civil. Robert went on to serve for four years as governor of the Volunteer State. Alfred eventually captured the Tennessee governorship in 1920.

Regarding the Roosevelt dynasty, this family has not always been in electoral unison. In 1912, former President Theodore Roosevelt defected from the Republican Party and ran for president as the nominee of the Progressive Party (a.k.a. Bull Mouse Party). Roosevelt's son-in-law, Nicholas Longworth, was married to Roosevelt's daughter Alice. Longworth was a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio. Ironically, Longworth did not support his father-in-law for political office, but instead, supported the Republican nominee, President William Howard Taft. Longworth called himself "a Taft man through and through." Roosevelt's populist insurgent campaign had a groundswell of support in Longworth's Ohio congressional district. Unlike her husband, Alice supported her father's campaign for president. In fact, she made an appearance with California Governor Hiram Johnson, Roosevelt's vice presidential running mate, in her husband's congressional district. This surreal event galvanized progressive voters to turn out at the polls to support Roosevelt. Most of these voters also voted for the Progressive Party House candidate Millard F. Andrew, who siphoned votes from Longworth, allowing Democrat Stanley Eyre Bowdle to upset Longworth by just 101 votes. It can be reasonably argued that Alice's campaign appearance with her father's running mate cost her own husband the congressional race. The election was so close that a six-day recount was performed, with Bowdle declared the winner. Ironically, both Roosevelt and Taft lost the Presidential election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. The election was an electoral disaster for the Roosevelt family.

In 1924, the Democrats nominated New York Governor Al Smith for re-election. The Republicans countered by nominating Assistant U.S. Navy Secretary Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the son of the former president. Franklin D. Roosevelt (Theodore Jr.'s cousin) and his wife Eleanor Roosevelt (always faithful to the Democratic Party) were foursquare for Smith. In fact, they went full throttle, attacking cousin Theodore. Franklin publicly categorized Theodore Jr.'s record as: "wretched." Theodore had been implicated in the Teapot Dome scandal under the administration of Warren G. Harding, where the Navy petroleum reserves were illegally leased to oil companies without competitive bidding. Although Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was cleared of any improprieties from this embarrassing episode, this did not stop Eleanor Roosevelt from trying to tether the scandal to Theodore Jr. She even shadowed Theodore at his campaign events with a teapot attached to her car. Smith won the election.

Theodore Roosevelt Jr.'s mother, Edith Roosevelt, avenged the disloyalty of her nephew Franklin in 1932. At this time, Franklin was the Democratic presidential nominee. Edith embarrassed him by campaigning for Republican President Herbert Hoover in Roosevelt's home state of New York.

In another interesting political twist, later in life Smith became a vociferous detractor of Franklin Roosevelt. In fact, during Roosevelt's Presidency, Smith excoriated Roosevelt's domestic program: "The New Deal." He sat on the board of the business-oriented anti-New Deal American Liberty League, even endorsing Roosevelt's Republican opponents in 1936 and again in 1940 (Alfred Landon and Wendell Willkie, respectively).

In Massachusetts, State Representative Mark Roosevelt, the grandson of Theodore Roosevelt Jr., was the Democratic nominee for governor of Massachusetts, running against Republican Governor William F. Weld. Weld was married to Susan Roosevelt Weld, a cousin of Mark Roosevelt. This family feud was a nasty slugfest. Despite Weld's commanding lead, Weld ran up the electoral score in part by approving advertisements attacking Roosevelt. Roosevelt in turn said of Weld: "He's indifferent, apathetic, feckless, aloof, passive and lazy. Did I say uncaring? He's uncaring." Weld won the race with a record 71 percent of the vote.

On occasion, married couples cancel each other out at the voting booth. Sometimes political couples endorse two opposing candidates. This was the case in Louisiana in 1976. Louisiana was a critically important showdown state in the Presidential election. The state's Democratic Governor, Edwin Edwards, campaigned for his party's nominee, former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter. However, Edwards' wife, Elaine S. Edwards, a one time Democratic U.S. Senator from Louisiana, bucked party lines by supporting and campaigning for Republican President Gerald R. Ford. Without mentioning that the popular Governor Edwards had endorsed Carter, Ford artfully introduced Mrs. Edwards at a Louisiana campaign rally by asserting: "Now may I introduce to all of you wonderful people of Louisiana the wife of your great Governor, Elaine Edwards. I thank Elaine very, very much for her personal endorsement. I am grateful, and I have told her in the next four years we won't let her and the State of Louisiana down." Carter pocketed the state's ten electoral votes with 51.73 percent of the popular vote.

There are more recent examples of political families not marching in lockstep. In 2004, while U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) was stumping for Massachusetts Senate colleague John Kerry, his son, U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) threw his support behind former U.S. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO). In 2008, while U.S. Representative Charlie Rangel (D-NY) pledged his political allegiance to his home state's U.S. Senator, Hillary Clinton, in her Presidential run, his wife Alma Rangel publicly endorsed Hillary's cardinal opponent in the race, U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). While technically not actual blood relatives, in 1998, Texas Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, a Democrat, grabbed attention by crossing party lines and endorsing Republican Governor George W. Bush for re-election over Gary Mauro, the Democratic Gubernatorial nominee. Strangely, Bullock was the Godfather of Mauro's two children.

It is unlikely that any members of the Bush or Clinton families will defect to a competing candidate should Hillary and/or Jeb seek the presidency in 2016. However, it must be noted that sometimes political families have been divided in the electoral sphere of life, supporting and casting votes for opposing candidates.

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