Bush-Clinton sequel may be in the offing for 2016

Nancy Benac
Associated Press

Washington — Again? Really?

There are more than 300 million people in America, yet the same two families keep popping up when it comes to picking a president.

The possibility of a Bush-Clinton matchup in 2016 is increasingly plausible.

After months of hints and speculation, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush last week said he’s actively exploring a bid for the Republican nomination.

And while Hillary Rodham Clinton hasn’t revealed her intentions, she’s seen as the odds-on favorite for the Democratic nomination.

Between them, the two potential rivals have three presidents and a U.S. senator in the branches of their family trees. And three governors, as well.

Why are these two families so dominant in modern politics? Even though Americans profess to reject dynasties, in politics they’re quite comfortable with familiar names.

A famous name can bring a candidate instant recognition, important fund-raising connections and a ready network of political contacts. It may also suggest competence at a time of dysfunction — like now.

“Power begets power,” says Dartmouth College political scientist Brendan Nyhan. “Dynasties can self-perpetuate.”

A political pedigree can have its negatives, though. A prominent surname sometimes carries unsavory associations and the risk of a fatigue factor.

Both sides of that equation were evident after Bush, 61, the son and brother of a president and the grandson of a senator, made his announcement.

Party activists said the Bush name would help Jeb attract early money, talent and supporters around the country. But Bush’s brother, George W. Bush, was hugely unpopular at the end of his presidency six years ago.

And while people seem to think more of him now, the recent release of a Senate report on Bush-era torture practices was a ready reminder of past controversies.

Clinton, 67, a former secretary of state, senator and first lady, will face the same competing dynamics of familiarity vs. fatigue if she enters the race.

Former President Bill Clinton is enormously popular now, and would be sure to campaign for his wife as he did in the 2008 race, but there is still plenty of lingering unwanted baggage from his White House years.

Dynastic politics, in which multiple family members hold elected office, are more common than people might think in the U.S. The U.S. has had 44 presidents, and eight of them came from four families. (Two each of Adams, Harrison, Roosevelt and Bush.)

A 2010 study found that over the previous two centuries, nearly 9 percent of members of Congress were closely related to someone who had served in a previous Congress.