Have you noticed how often family members are turning up in the presidential campaign?
Consider the irony of that Ted Cruz-Canada debate. Cruz was born in Calgary and Donald (“People Are Saying”) Trump has raised the question of whether that makes him ineligible to be president. We’ll let constitutional scholars figure it out. But, meanwhile, we can enjoy recalling that Cruz’s father, Rafael, once told a Texas Tea Party group that he’d like to send President Barack Obama “back to Kenya.” Hehehehe.
Even noncrazy relatives are popping up all over. This week Chelsea Clinton set off a major battle over Bernie Sanders’ health care plan. There’s been reporting on Marco Rubio’s brother-in-law, who was once a rather high-level drug dealer in Florida. Ted Cruz’s little daughters popped up in a political cartoon.
Remember Jeb? He was going to run as his own man, but people on the campaign mailing list are getting requests for donations from George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Barbara Bush, George P. Bush and Columba Bush. The family that fundraises together stays together.
And how are we supposed to react to all this? Let’s review a few rules:
▪ Forget family members who aren’t in politics — unless they hijack a plane or something. Don’t hold it against Marco Rubio that his brother-in-law, Orlando Cicilia, served 12 years in prison on drug charges. Perhaps in a perfect world, when Rubio was a leader in the Florida Legislature and sent a letter recommending that the newly released Cicilia be given a real estate license, he might have mentioned that the ex-convict in question was something more than a typical constituent. But still.
In his memoir Rubio wrote about the trauma of the arrest, and coming home as a teenager to find his pregnant sister sleeping on the family sofa with her little boy. The image, Rubio wrote, “has remained with me all my life.” This is the only part of the story I would like us to consider a little bit, since the chapter does not end with Marco offering his sister his own bed for the night. Maybe he was too modest to mention it. But inquiring minds want to know.
▪ Never make fun of children. Not even if Ted Cruz puts his small daughters in a campaign ad in which the 7-year-old reads from a mock Christmas book called “The Grinch Who Lost Her Emails.” A Washington Post cartoon portrayed them as trained monkeys and that was out of line. Leave the kids alone. When they’re teenagers, they’ll figure out their own ways to get revenge.
▪ Adult relatives should generally get a break. Right now there are dozens of spouses, siblings and offspring of candidates staggering around Iowa shaking hands, thanking people for coming and recounting homey anecdotes about the time Dad or Mom flew a thousand miles to get to the school play. They’re tired and they just discovered they’ve gained seven pounds since that raccoon roast in Arkansas. Have mercy.
▪ However, there’s a limit. We hardly need note that Bill Clinton gets no family-member slack, ever. Chelsea Clinton is a little different. In the past she’s been superdisciplined. I remember back in 2000 watching her trot after her parents to the New York State Fair, looking dutifully at a life-size refrigerator carved out of butter, and thinking this is a whole new level of being a good daughter.
But Chelsea made news this week in New Hampshire where she told an audience that “Sen. Sanders wants to dismantle Obamacare … dismantle Medicare and dismantle private insurance.” This is a whole new line of attack, and you’d at least expect it to come first from the candidate. “Chelsea Clinton is as policy-obsessed and as smart and as attentive to the details as both her parents when it comes to policy,” said a Clinton spokesman. That’s campaign-speak for “it was an accident.”
▪ Go for the jugular if the relative is saying something the candidate wants to say without being held responsible. This takes us back to Rafael Cruz, an evangelical minister who has claimed, among other things, that gay rights advocates want to “legalize pedophiles” and that if America had no abortions it would also have no national debt. His son is currently trying to court the far right without sounding quite that loopy in person.
Cruz talks a lot about his hyperpatriotic father, who came to the United States from Cuba on a student visa, worked his way through college and then began climbing up in the world. Actually, most of the climbing occurred in Canada, where Dad worked and became a citizen in 1973. The family came back to the United States, but Rafael didn’t get around to becoming an American for 30 years.
The delay was due to “I guess laziness, or — I don’t know,” he once told David Welna of NPR.