The Weekly Drama Series Dynasty was one of the best shows of the 1980s for ABC. While its seminal season was in 1984 – its fifth of nine – ranking first among all weekday dramas, it began to lose viewer interest in its final seasons. Who can blame them for disconnecting and shutting down? The storylines got too over the top and the cliffhanger ending felt old. Silly storytelling and repetitiveness made bad money for the show and by the end of 1989, Dynasty was over. There was a small reunion in 1991 and a reboot that began in 2017, but even those couldn’t restore the series to its once-famous glory.
In 2022, as in 1989, the dynasties have fallen. But this time it wasn’t a TV show. These were 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 to fall. This fundamental crack could have started with the losses of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primary and general elections to businessman Donald Trump. With their voter rejection, it was as if the country was sneezing and the states were catching a cold.
From 2018 to the present, candidates from states whose names are tied to political fame have failed to secure the victory that was once an afterthought. In Massachusetts, Congressman Joe Kennedy III – grandson of former New York Senator, Attorney General and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy and nephew of former Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy and President John Kennedy – lost the U.S. Senate Democratic primary to incumbent Ed Markey. One of the ways Senator Markey won the election was by attacking Kennedy’s name. Even when Congressman Kennedy invoked his family in the campaign, it was too little too late and it was Kennedy’s first loss in Massachusetts.
Texas has not been isolated from the end of political dynasties as it happened to the same family in 2020 and 2022. Pierce Bush – grandson of former President George HW Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush – finished third over a crowded Republican candidate in the primary. field, preventing it from advancing towards the primary runoff.
Pierce Bush’s cousin and current Texas Commissioner General of Lands, George P., wanted 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 strong. As I wrote about Paxton’s legal issues last year, Republican voters in the May 2022 runoff chose him over the Lands Commissioner because those issues didn’t matter to them. As political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus has pointed out, “the most striking scandals are the most recent and of a financial nature”. Rottinghaus further pointed out, “’Paxton has won elections before with ethical issues hanging over his head. Because it’s been around for so long, it’s a ho-hum for voters.
In January, the political Bush dynasty will end in Texas just as the Cheney dynasty will end in Wyoming. Earlier this month, Congresswoman Liz Cheney – daughter of former Congresswoman and Vice President Dick Cheney – lost her first re-election bid to Harriet Hageman.
Are political dynasties over? Maybe, but that has little to do with their names than political polarization. Congresswoman Cheney’s voting record is as conservative as it gets. Based on her legislative record, she has high ratings from major conservative interest groups. So how did she lose? Congresswoman Cheney lost primarily due to her vote to impeach former President Trump for a second time and her involvement with the Jan. 6 Commission. Just as AG Paxton evaded the challenge of Lands Commissioner Bush through his conservative legal battles against the Biden administration. Along the same lines, grizzled political veteran Ed Markey beat out Joe Kennedy because Markey was able to portray himself as the true progressive with a proven track record.
As parties diverge from each other, so do their candidates. We have experienced this in the primary election, where the names of the candidates did not translate into their automatic victory. In these elections with a small audience, it was the candidate’s position on key issues and actions as an office holder that mattered more to primary voters than the name.
Despite the end of the Bush, Cheney, Clinton and Kennedy lines, a political dynasty stands proudly in Texas. It’s the Paxton dynasty. AG Paxton’s wife, Angela, is a state senator who narrowly won her seat in 2018, easily renominated in the recent Republican primary and poised for a strong re-election due to gerrymandering. Have the Paxtons forged a new political dynasty in the Lone Star State? We will find out.