WASHINGTON — It is a cardinal rule of politics that families ought to be off-limits for attacks in campaigns, no matter how heated things get. But sometimes family members have a way of making trouble own their own for candidates.
When it comes to family members of presidential candidates, the 2016 election is shaping up to feature an unusually colorful cast of characters who could make plenty of trouble for their son, spouse or brother.
Here they are.
The father-son resemblance is strong between Rafael Cruz and Rafael Jr. — better known as Ted — when it comes to being a conservative flamethrower. An evangelical pastor from Texas, the elder Cruz has logged a variety of incendiary remarks about President Barack Obama that surpass his son’s rhetoric. Highlights include saying the president should go “back to Kenya,” accusing him of wanting to “destroy all concept of God,” describing his views as “classical Marxist philosophy” and comparing him to Fidel Castro.
The younger Cruz embodies a more politically sophisticated version of this primal conservatism. One of his chief obstacles to the nomination is his lack of support among party elites and big donors, precisely because of the rabble-rousing ways for which Rafael Sr. serves as an unhelpful reminder.
The former Texas congressman and father of Rand Paul had a proclivity for toying with conspiracy theories during his 35 years in office, and that tendency has kicked into high gear since his retirement in 2013. Just in 2015, his organization, the Ron Paul Institute, has suggested that the massacre of Charlie Hebdo by Islamic militants was a “false flag” and even called into question the “official story” of the 9/11 attacks.
His son, a Kentucky senator and presidential hopeful, more in tune with political reality and working to shed the outside-the-mainstream image he inherited. If his father keeps at it, that won’t be an easy task.
The popular former president, generally an asset to the Democratic Party, demonstrated during the 2008 primary battle how he can turn into a liability when his wife is under attack. His remark after Barack Obama won the South Carolina primary that “Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in ’84 and ’88” injected a dose of racial politics into the primary fight just when Hillary Clinton didn’t need it. According to New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza, the former president, seeking to win Ted Kennedy’s coveted endorsement for his wife, reportedly told the former senator of Obama, “A few years ago, this guy would have been carrying out bags.” Kennedy ended up endorsing Obama.
And nobody had even brought up Monica Lewinsky during that campaign. If Hillary Clinton in the Democratic nominee, expect the gloves to come off.
George W. Bush
Does this one even need an explanation? The most recent former president left office as one of the most unpopular in history, and — almost as troubling for his aspiring younger brother Jeb — was subsequently cast by the conservative base as an emblem of spendthrift Republicanism gone wrong. The Bush name is a liability with most constituencies other than evangelicals and wealthy GOP donors. Although George W. Bush has actively avoided the limelight since he left office, he recently resurfaced in the public eye to attend a fundraiser for his brother. And it’s a safe bet that Democrats will seek to paint Jeb as the second coming of his brother.
“I love my father and my brother,” Jeb Bush said recently. “But I am my own man — and my views are shaped by my own thinking and own experiences.”