The End of Dynasties
The weekly drama series Dynasty was one of the best shows during the 1980s for ABC. While its paramount season was in 1984 — its fifth of nine — ranking first among all weeknight dramas, it began to lose the interest of the viewer in its later seasons. Who can blame them for tuning out and turning off? The storylines became too over-the-top and the cliffhanger ending was old. Silly storytelling and repetitiveness made a bad recipe for the show and by the end of 1989, Dynasty was over. There was a small reunion in 1991 and a reboot that started in 2017 but even those could not restore the show to its once famed glory.
In 2022, like 1989, dynasties fell. But this time, it was not a television show. It was the great political dynasties that many Americans — and Texans — thought would never end. To examine the decline of a dynasty, the foundation must be weak in order to fall. That foundational crack could have started with the losses of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016’s primary and general elections to businessman Donald Trump. With their rejection from voters, it was as though the country sneezed and the states caught a cold.
From 2018 through the present, candidates in states with a name tied to political fame failed to capture victory that was once an afterthought. In Massachusetts, Congressman Joe Kennedy III — grandson to former New York Senator, Attorney General, and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy and nephew to former Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy and President John Kennedy — lost the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate to incumbent Ed Markey. One of the ways Senator Markey won the election was by attacking the Kennedy name. Even when Congressman Kennedy invoked his family into the campaign, it was too little too late and this was the first Kennedy loss in Massachusetts.
Texas was not isolated from ending political dynasties as it happened to the same family in both 2020 and 2022. Pierce Bush — grandson of former President George H.W. Bush and nephew to former President George W. Bush — finished third out of a crowded Republican primary candidate field, preventing him from advancing to the primary runoff.
Pierce Bush’s cousin and current Texas General Lands Commissioner George P. desired to defeat current Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in the Republican primary. While Commissioner Bush, and other primary candidates, forced a runoff against AG Paxton, the runoff result was decisive and loud. As I wrote last year about Paxton’s legal troubles, Republican voters in the 2022 May runoff chose him over the Lands Commissioner because those issues did not matter to them. As political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus highlighted “the scandals that hit hardest are the most recent and financial in nature.” Rottinghaus further pointed out “’Paxton already won elections with ethical issues hanging over his head. Because it’s been around so long, it’s ho-hum for voters.’”
Come January, the Bush political dynasty will end in Texas just like the Cheney dynasty will end in Wyoming. Earlier this month, Congresswoman Liz Cheney — daughter of former Congressman and Vice-President Dick Cheney — lost her primary bid for reelection to Harriet Hageman.
Are political dynasties over? Perhaps but it has little to do with their names than it does political polarization. Congresswoman Cheney’s voting record is as conservative as one could be. Based on her legislative record, she owns high marks from key conservative interest groups. So how did she lose? Congresswoman Cheney lost mainly due to her vote to impeach former President Trump a second time and involvement in the January 6th Commission. Just like AG Paxton staved off Lands Commissioner Bush’s challenge through his conservative legal battles against the Biden Administration. In the same light, grizzled political veteran Ed Markey beat Joe Kennedy because Markey was able to paint himself as the true progressive with a proven record.
As Party’s diverge from one another, so do their candidates. We experienced this through the primary election, where the name of candidates did not translate to their automatic victory. In those elections with a narrow audience, it was the candidate’s stance on key issues and actions as officeholder that mattered more to primary voters than the name
Despite the end of the Bush, Cheney, Clinton, and Kennedy lines, one political dynasty stands tall in Texas. That is the Paxton dynasty. AG Paxton’s wife Angela is a State Senator who narrowly won her seat in 2018, easily re-nominated in the recent Republican primary, and poised for a sound re-election due to gerrymandering. Have the Paxtons forged a new political dynasty in the Lone Star State? We will find out.