Say what you want about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, but you can’t deny the fact that they’ve done an impressive job raising their children. The two candidates’ daughters are remarkable young women.
Perhaps that’s why they’ve been pushed into the spotlight—acting as an extension of their parents’ campaigns. Looking past the clashing visions of America the campaigns are laying out, the roles of the candidates’ daughters are remarkably similar.
Families have often helped candidates win elections, albeit less conspicuously. Nearly 50 years ago, seeing the success John F. Kennedy had in the 1960 election, the Nixons “allowed the emergence of personality culture around them,” said Doug Wead, presidential historian and author of All the Presidents’ Children, in an interview with the HPR. Richard Nixon’s daughters, Julie and Tricia, started to pop up on the trail when he realized “that people identify with a family more than they do with an individual.” This lesson is one that Trump and Clinton have tried to implement.
Last month, Ivanka Trump appeared in Pennsylvania to lay out a childcare policy with her father, while her good friend Chelsea Clinton traversed through North Carolina to stump for her mother. This past summer, Ivanka and Chelsea, who help run their respective parent’s organizations, introduced their parents at the parties’ conventions in front of millions.
In the same way he has run his businesses, Trump is running his campaign with a family-business mentality. Ivanka has joined him on the trail, stumped for him on television, and, alongside her siblings, advocated for him at the convention. One of the major architects of the Trump campaign is Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner.
On the other side, Chelsea is a major force behind the Clinton campaign. She has been raising money through events geared toward millennials, like a fashion show soiree in early September and a SoulCycle fundraiser last January. She’s appeared on the campaign circuit and even had to provide medical assistance: Clinton’s first stop after her health scare during the 9/11 memorial event was at Chelsea’s apartment.
The children’s presence on the campaign trail is not by accident. Rather, according to Burt Folsom, a professor of history at Hillsdale College, in an interview with the HPR, Ivanka and Chelsea “are trying to reach the millennials,” a major voting bloc.
Enthusiasm amongst millennials for the candidates is lackluster this year. Ivanka and Chelsea have the power to generate millennial excitement because they themselves are millennials. They are also trying to enhance their parent’s image. “The candidates try to use their children in a way to portray themselves as good family people and their children as likeable, without subjecting their children to any kind of serious scrutiny,” Folsom.
Wead said when he sees Ivanka and Chelsea, he thinks of Anna Roosevelt, the “very talented, very accomplished, very sophisticated” daughter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. “The last year FDR was in office, she ended up running the White House. He trusted her completely. And you can’t fire your daughter. And you can’t fire your son. They’re very powerful because of that fact. Other people can be shunted aside, they could be ignored,” he told the HPR.
Anna Roosevelt stepped in when Eleanor’s relationship with FDR began to sour. Likewise, this year, the daughters’ roles have increased as a consequence of the spouses’ decreased roles. After “Melania-Gate” at the Republican National Convention, Trump’s wife seemingly went into hiding, not appearing on the campaign trail for months.
In typical cycles, Republican presidential spouses have often been used to expand their husband’s base, explained Wead. “A Republican president almost always has the wife move to the left. So you’ve got Laura Bush and Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan and all of them espousing ideas that are more liberal than their husbands, and they get away with it politically. The base can’t criticize the president because he’s loyal to his wife.”
This cycle, with Melania’s disappearance rivaling that of a certain Malaysian flight, it has been on Ivanka to play the role of a typical Republican first lady. She is making a patent plea to women voters in a new campaign ad entitled, “Motherhood,” and is the only Trump child to receive Secret Service protection.
Meanwhile, Clinton is in unchartered territory. Bill Clinton has demonstrated “uncharacteristic restraint” this past year and has kept a fairly low profile. If the former president followed the traditional role of a candidate’s spouse and tried to share his own views, “it might make Hillary look diminished that she has a husband who’s disagreeing with her,” Wead says.
Thus, Chelsea has been forced to make campaign stops typically reserved for a spouse. She spoke about family leave and childcare in Michigan and college affordability in North Carolina in the past few weeks. Her message is even more potent this cycle compared to 2008, as she is now a mother to two young children.
Folsom says the muted role of the spouses is something “that’s specific to this campaign.” The extent of the children’s involvement is also unprecedented and unlikely to happen again.
The children’s roles extend far beyond the typical surrogate-like responsibilities of those bearing the last name of a candidate. Not only are they fundraising and strategizing, but they’re also humanizing their parents, which is a tough job: Clinton is often described as robotic and pre-programmed, while Trump is seen as lacking a basic moral compass.
It has been Ivanka and Chelsea’s job to explain their parents to the world. Ivanka seems to be cleaning up after her father more than any maid at Trump Tower, while Chelsea recently participated in a documentary about her mother.
These candidates are two of the most unlikable in history. They have been through the wringer more than any other political figures in American history. And they both have a propensity for secrecy.
They need people to help them gain voters’ trust—and who better than their children.
Image Credits: Laurie Shaull/Flickr, Michael Vadon/Flickr