"It's pretty apparent that Mr. Bush became the odds-on favorite to get the Republican nomination because he was born with a famous political name." -- Gail Collins in the New York Times.
Columnist Collins is not the only one to think that, but if history is any guide, odds are Governor Bush is probably a dead duck. Having a famous political name is not a compelling asset in presidential politics.
In this century only one man with a famous political name associated with a former president has himself been nominated for presi-ent. And he was a member of the opposite party from the one his famous political name was identified with.
In the last century, only two men with inherited famous politics names were nominated for president. Both were elected -- but one stole the election. And the other's name hadn't been famous for nearly 48 years when he was elected.
George W. Bush has a particularly foreboding handicap to overcome. His name is famous because he is the son of a president. The people have never selected an ex-president's son for the presidency. One ex-president's son did become president, but he's the one referred to above as having stolen the office after losing the election. That would be John Quincy Adams. His father was John Adams. Father was president for one term, 1797-1801. Son ran in 1824. Party divisions were pre-modern then. There were four Democratic-Republican candidates on the ballot: John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, William Crawford.
Jackson won the popular vote (41 percent of the total). Adams got 31 percent, Clay 13 percent, Crawford 11 percent. Jackson also won the electoral vote: 99, to Adams' 84, Crawford's 41 and Clay's 37.
But 99 was not a majority, so the decision was up to the House of Representatives. Clay and Adams made a deal, and the House chose Adams.
This led to jokes about a president made of clay -- and to a Jackson rout of Adams in a rematch in 1828.
No other famous political name came along till 1888. Sen. Benjamin Harrison of Indiana was nominated by the Republicans and defeated the incumbent president, Grover Cleveland. His grandfather, William Henry Harrison, former governor of Indiana Territory and a member of Congress from Ohio, was elected president in 1840 -- and died after only 30 days in office.
The next presidential candidate with a famous political name was Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was the Democratic vice-presidential nominee on a losing ticket in 1920 and the presidential nominee on the Democrats' winning ticket in 1932. "Roosevelt" had been made a famous name by Theodore Roosevelt, president from 1901-1909, after having been elevated from the vice presidency when William McKinley was assassinated.
Theodore was Franklin's fifth cousin. He was also a Republican. So was Theodore's son, Theodore Jr. He entered politics after World War I heroism and was a chip off the old block. He was a state assemblyman and assistant secretary of the Navy, just like Dad (and just like FDR, who followed the same career path, including running for, if not being elected to, the vice presidency).
In 1924 TR Jr. ran for governor of New York. Had he won that office previously held by his father (and later by FDR), he was thought to be a likely Republican presidential nominee in 1928 or 1932. But Jr. lost to a Democrat, and his career was effectively over.
Franklin had four sons. Two -- Franklin Jr. and James -- had national political ambitions. Bona fide ambitions. They had their famous political name, good World War II records, and energy. And good PR. Arthur Schlesinger predicted in a magazine article in 1947 that "In 10 years, maybe sooner, two of the most important states may have Roosevelts as governors."
He meant New York and California, then as now the states with the biggest and second-biggest number of electoral votes. (New York was first then, is second now). Both men were elected to Congress from the biggest cities in their respective states,
Franklin won three terms in the House of Representatives. Then in 1954 he lost New York's Democratic gubernatorial primary to his father's wartime ambassador to the Soviet Union, Averell Harriman.
James won six terms in the House after he became the Democratic nominee for governor in 1950, only by the Republican gubernatorial candidate, incumbent Gov. Earl Warren.
The only presidential son who has come close to the White House in the 174 years since John Quincy Adams connived his way in was Robert A. Taft. His father was William Howard Taft, president from 1909to 1913.
Robert was elected to the U.S. Senate from Ohio in 1938. He was "Mr. Republican," the darling of his party's right wing. He sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1940. He lost to Wendell Willkie, a New York business magnate from Indiana who was less conservative, after a hard fight that went to six convention ballots.
Taft ran again ill 1948 and lost to the Eastern establishment's favorite, New York Gov. Thomas Dewey. In 1952, he almost won the nomination in a close battle with the choice of Dewey and his crowd, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower.
Charles Taft, Robert's brother, sought his party gubernatorial nomination in Ohio in 1952 but lost. Robert died in 1953. His son Robert Jr. sought a Senate scat in 1964, and before the election was being hailed as a future presidential candidate. He lost that year, but won in 1970. After one term he lost the seat and was never again considered a presidential prospect.
The next man with a name made politically famous by a president to seek the presidency was New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. He was President John F. Kennedy's brother. He was assassinated be-fore the Democratic convention met to pick a presidential nominee.
Some supporters believe he would have won the nomination had he lived, but that is far from certain.
In 1976 another JFK brother, Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, ran for the Democratic presidential nomination and lost to Jimmy Carter.
In this century, only Robert A. Taft -- of all the presidential sons who entered politics -- had a career in elective politics successful enough to qualify him for the presidency.
Frank and Jimmy Roosevelt didn't win those two big-state governorships as predicted.
But George W. Bush is now governor of Texas, and his brother Jeb is governor of Florida. Those states have, respectively, the third and fourth most electoral votes.
One or the other Governor Bush may become president someday, but based on history's tale, you wouldn't want to bet on it.
Do the odds: American presidents have had 56 sons who lived long enough to qualify for the presidency. One made it, illegitimately.