Roosevelt, Nixon, and Bush: Americans Like Political Dynasties

Could another Bush wind up in the White House?

Jeb Bush could at least win the Republican nomination in 2012, Joshua Green wrote. Who knows, maybe he would go on to beat President Obama. Those scenarios are consistent with more than a century's worth of U.S. political history. Americans haven't shown antipathy toward vaguely dynastic candidates, as you may expect from the decedents of those who revolted against the British Crown. In fact, we apparently like to see the familiar presidential names on the ballot.
From 1900 to 1944, a Roosevelt ran on a national ticket in eight of 12 elections, either for president or vice president. Theodore Roosevelt became VP in 1900, was elected president in 1904, and ran on a third-party ticket in 1912 (when he won the largest-ever vote share for a third-party presidential candidate).
It's easily forgotten that Roosevelt's cousin, FDR, made an unsuccessful bid for vice president in 1920. The reason it's not remembered? FDR was elected as president in 1932 and then rolled up the next three reelection campaigns. (My guess is that FDR could have been reelected at least twice more had he not died in 1945 and term limits not been instituted. Winning World War II and ending the Great Depression would have been winning issues.)

The next wave happened on the Republican side. From 1952 to 2004, Nixon or a Bush ran on a national ticket 11 of 14 times. Richard Nixon became vice president in 1952, stayed after 1956, and just barely lost the White House to JFK in 1960. Nixon had his great comeback in 1968 and then was reelected in a landslide.
Eight years later, the Bushes came. George H.W. Bush spent 12 years in the White House as vice president and president. The 1996 election was the only one from 1980 until 2008 that didn't have a Bush running for president. George W. won in 2000 and was reelected in 2004.
If this weren't enough evidence that a last name goes far, consider Hillary Clinton. The wife of the first two-term Democratic president since Harry Truman, she won more primary votes than Barack Obama did in 2008. (Remember, Florida and Michigan's votes didn't fully count toward nomination because they violated DNC rules. Had they, we may be talking about the second Clinton presidency today.)

So Jeb should be smiling right? Well not exactly. George W. Bush's approval rating upon leaving office was much worse than George H.W. Bush's 56 percent rating. The first President Bush made it relatively easy for the second to get elected, but the enduring unpopularity of the second makes a third unlikely--though not impossible.

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Justin Miller was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 to 2011. He is now the homepage editor at New York magazine. More

Justin Miller was a associate editor at The Atlantic. Previously he was an assistant editor at RealClearPolitics, a political reporter in Ohio, and a freelance journalist.

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