The dust has settled since the conventions and Mrs. Clinton appears to have settled into a lead of three to seven points. This reflects the usual convention surge and a final flare-up of Trumpian foot-in-mouth disorder. It is far from a safe margin ten weeks from a presidential election, and even farther from the elephantine gap the more energetic anti-Trumpians were predicting. (They envisioned something like the sixty-four point margin in the French presidential election of 2002 between Jacques Chirac and Jean-Marie Le Pen.)
The Democratic National Convention was designed to be a shock and awe campaign on behalf of all the forces of continuity of both parties. Both Clintons, both Obamas, Joe Biden, Tim Kaine, as well as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, an all-time record for addresses from present, former and intended imminent occupants of the White House and Naval Observatory (where the vice president lives). If Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine win and are reelected, it will be an astonishing sixty-four years in the official residences for those convention speakers, without adding a future term or two for Kaine or Warren.
It was intended to be a show of strength and unity for the whole concept of continuity of what the country has had for most of the last quarter century. In reinforcement of that theme, Michael Bloomberg was trotted out to perform a billionaire New Yorker-to-billionaire New Yorker hit job on Donald Trump, wedged in among all the past, present and future public tenants.
The question was whether the parade of verbose incumbents stabilized the election campaign and rallied adequate numbers of those satisfied with the Clinton-Obama record and ethos, and added to it a cubit of those capable of being frightened at the prospect of Trump in high places; or whether it reinforced the exasperation, boredom, anger, and numbers of those who want to clean house and sweep the Clinton dynasty into the same dust-bin as the Bush dynasty which inadvertently spawned it. The question remains unanswered, as neither has occurred.
In fact, the Bushes and Clintons have been more incumbencies than dynasties. The Adams had father and son presidents, then a grandson who was a vice presidential candidate and distinguished minister to Great Britain during the Civil War; respected writers descended from him. They were one of America’s most prominent families for 150 years. The Harrisons had an Indian Wars and War of 1812 general who became president, his son was a U.S. senator, and the senator’s son was a president, having been a Civil War general. They were a famous family in the Midwest for almost all of the nineteenth century. The Roosevelts gave the nation two of its greatest presidents, but they were, apart from the fact that Franklin married Theodore’s niece and goddaughter, only sixth cousins, a generation apart in age and in different parties, but they were, between them, very prominent in the public life of the country for nearly fifty years, and one or the other was the leading American public figure for probably half that time. These were meritocratic dynasties, though the Adams and Roosevelts were well launched into their public careers from well-to-do families.
Prescott Bush was an able and respected man who married the daughter of the boss and became the head of a merchant bank, and then a U.S. senator from Connecticut. His son, George H.W., was well-placed in the oil business in Texas through his father’s connections, became congressman in a safe Republican district of Texas, and was rewarded by Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford for two unsuccessful Senate campaigns in Texas with the embassy to the United Nations, chairmanship of the Republican Party, the mission to China and direction of the CIA. He was competent in all these roles and ran behind Reagan in the primaries in 1980, conceding the primary he could win in Reagan’s favor after Reagan had sewn up the nomination; the nominee rewarded his courtesy with the vice-presidential nomination.
The vice president performed capably and stood on the Reagan coat-tails all the way into the White House. He was an above average president but not a good party leader, and allowed the erratic Texas billionaire Ross Perot to split the Republicans, bringing in the Clintons, who might otherwise not have been durably prominent outside Arkansas. Between them, the Bushes and Clintons held the White House for twenty consecutive years. Hillary Clinton defeated Barack Obama in the primaries eight years ago, but Obama sold the ex officio delegates on the timeliness of a nonwhite president; he won and gave Mrs. Clinton the State Department as a consolation prize. Thus, the two families held one of the three greatest offices in the federal government for eight straight terms, from the inauguration of the senior Bush as vice president in 1981 to Mrs. Clinton’s retirement from the State Department in 2013.