The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “coronation” as a ceremony in which a crown is placed on the head of a new king or queen.
In the case of royalty, the pathway to a coronation is a surefire thing with the identity of the heir known well in advance according to publically accepted, well-defined rules. When the time comes, the heir apparent takes the throne – no questions asked. In the case of a putative political dynasty, however, the pathway to power is anything but certain. There are no rules that govern the course to the presidency for dynastic aspirants. Instead, there is an assumption that the electorate will favor members of a political family or ruling class, who have powerful name recognition and connections that benefit them and, therefore, give them a leg up on their competition.
Just a few months ago, the 2016 presidential election was shaping up to be a contest between candidates from two political dynasties: Jeb Bush from the house of Bush and Hillary Clinton from the house of Clinton. But then, reality crashed the party in the form of a rude intruder named Donald Trump in the case of Bush and in the form of escalating scandals in the case of Clinton.
Jeb Bush should have listened to his mother. In 2013, when asked if her son, Jeb, should run for president, Barbara Bush said, “There are other people out there that are very qualified. We’ve had enough Bushes.” She later changed her mind, but her original intuition was spot on. Jeb was the early favorite of the Republican establishment, but his positions on immigration and education drew strong criticism from conservatives within the party. Everything was proceeding smoothly enough for Jeb until Donald Trump entered the race and then things quickly started to unravel. At first, like many others in the large field of Republican candidates, Bush laughed off Trump and attacked him for being politically tone deaf. But those attacks backfired badly. Instead of flaming out as Bush expected, Trump’s popularity grew as he tapped into anti-establishment sentiment among the populace. To make matters worse, Trump has even greater name recognition than Bush, a name Jeb studiously avoids because of its negative dynastic overtones. Trump dismisses Jeb Bush as a low-energy candidate who struggles to get things done and Jeb’s calm demeanor seems to lend credence to the attack. Trump blasts Jeb as weak on immigration and wrong on education. He makes fun of Jeb’s wimpy presidential logo, where Jeb’s last name is conspicuous by its absence. Right on cue, a Quinnipiac poll says the first word that pops into a voter’s head when Jeb’s name comes up is “Bush,” which a direct refutation of Jeb’s calculated attempt to put distance between himself and his own famous or, some would say, infamous surname. Voters also associated Jeb Bush’s name with the words “War,” “Weak,” and “Dynasty,” all of which are anathema to a successful presidential run.
Just a month or so ago, Hillary Clinton enjoyed an enormous lead over her nearest rival, Bernie Sanders, who isn’t even a member of the Democratic Party. But her lead has slipped very badly since then. Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist and an independent, is ahead of Hillary in New Hampshire, and he is now almost within the margin of error in Iowa. Democrats are so fearful that Hillary is damaged goods that many are urging Vice President Joe Biden, the happy warrior, to enter the fray.
Obviously, Clinton’s scandals have taken a big toll and appear to be metastasizing. She is constantly under siege about her private email server, accusations about favorable governmental treatment she extended to donors to the Clintons and their Foundation, and her handling of the deadly assault on our embassy in Benghazi. She tried to blow off all the scandals as some kind of grand conspiracy by her opponents, but the scandals keep growing in their scale and severity. It doesn’t help that her husband, Bill, attempted to get clearance from the State Department, while Hillary was Secretary of State, to give speeches at $650,000 a pop to repressive regimes in North Korea and Uganda. Bill Clinton has been as helpful to his wife’s campaign as a stained blue dress.
The Quinnipiac poll says the words that most frequently pop into a voter’s head when Hillary Clinton’s name comes up is “Liar,” “Dishonest,” “Untrustworthy,” and “Criminal.” The words “Emails” and “Benghazi” are also associated with her name. These impressions aren’t exactly the ones a presidential candidate wants to make on the electorate. There is fear in the Clinton camp that the FBI, which now has custody of Clinton’s private email server and thumb drives, will unearth information that will torpedo her campaign and might lead to a criminal indictment. It doesn’t take that long for computer experts to determine if data can be recovered from a server that was deliberately wiped clean. In fact, the FBI should already know if that’s the case. If the data from Clinton’s email server was transferred to a backup server somewhere along the line and the FBI has access to the backup server, the data can easily be retrieved. The fact that Hillary is no longer in control must be frightful to her and her supporters, not to mention the Democratic Party. The drip-drip water torture could turn into a turbulent deluge at any moment. Her campaign logo with the red arrow embedded in the letter “H” looks more and more like an accusatory finger pointing at her.
It is obvious at this point that a coronation is no longer in the cards for Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton. The question is whether either one of them can survive as a viable candidate. It appears that both of them have reached a tipping point where the political damage is beyond repair. It is possible that they can recover, but it is extremely doubtful that they can stanch the negativity surrounding their personae and their race for the presidency. They are both career politicians whose name association has taken a turn for the worse. Public sentiment is decidedly against establishment politicians, and both Jeb and Hillary are quintessential career politicians and Washington insiders.
So, where do they go from here? Both Bush and Clinton have huge campaign war chests, which can keep them in the race through the primary elections. The first primary election in New Hampshire is five months away, which is a very long time in politics. Things can turn around, but that might be wishful thinking. Indeed, it is more likely that things will go from bad to worse for them, if the current trend continues. Bush and Clinton would be well advised to start thinking of how to make a graceful exit from the race while they still have the chance, or they may be forced to do so. A push is as good as a shove.
Coronations are tricky things — just ask Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton.