From Chelsea to Ivanka, a campaign where the (grown-up) kids matter
The 2016 presidential election features two presidential daughters playing outsize roles in their parents' campaigns, a shift from the protective attitude many Americans have about mixing younger children with their parents' politics.
Questions about the Clinton Foundation still dog Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign, but the most recent criticism is the role of Chelsea Clinton in the family's charity work and politics.
Bill Clinton promised to step off the Clinton Foundation's board if his wife wins, Politico reported, and until recently, so did their daughter, but critics say she must step down if the family is to make a clean break.
The calls for Chelsea Clinton's resignation highlight not only concerns about conflict of interest in Mrs. Clinton's presidential run, but also suggest the role of first daughter could shift next January regardless of who wins in November.
Both the Democratic and Republican candidates for president have children who appear willing and able to help govern if their parents succeed. Chelsea Clinton was 12 when her father first took office; she now has multiple degrees, a varied career, and a growing family of her own.
Republican nominee Donald Trump's oldest daughter received some of the highest praise of the Republican National Convention for her spirited speech and defense of a campaign where insiders say she plays a key role. For Ivanka Trump, the transition has been from an apparently successful businesswoman into that of presidential daughter-presumptive. Chelsea Clinton has made the political shift from a child who needs protection from intense scrutiny to a capable adviser and campaign surrogate within her own lifetime.
While history is studded with presidential children who worked in politics, especially daughters who helped play hostess at the White House when the first lady was unable to, this campaign offers Americans the first recent example of such involved first children, says Doug Wead, author of the presidential history "All the President's Children."
"I haven't seen anybody take to the limelight the way the Trump kids have since the Kennedys," Mr. Wead told The Christian Science Monitor by phone earlier this summer.
For the past eight years, the presidential children have played a minimal public role in the politics swirling around them. Malia and Sasha Obama were just 10 and 7 when their father took office, and their parents were more concerned about protecting their childhood than using their skills in government.
"Good children from good homes in America have been the role models for the presidential children instead of the reverse," Sanford Kanter, a history professor at San Jacinto Community College in Houston and co-author of "America's Royalty: All the President's Children," told The Chicago Tribune. "The fame and goldfish-bowl life of presidential children is thus seen as a negative, and it becomes the duty of the president and spouse and the Secret Service to cocoon the children as much as possible."
Ronald Reagan's oldest daughter Maureen from his marriage to Jane Wyman, moved to the White House while he held office, but when she ran for Congress, her father avoided endorsing her in an effort to let her work independently, Wead says. Even the children of President George H.W. Bush, though several went on to careers in national politics, including one who later occupied the Oval Office himself, avoided the spotlight during their father's presidency.
But Chelsea Clinton has campaigned for her mother throughout both her presidential runs and introduced her during the Democratic National Convention. At the Republican convention, the Trump children also showed their value to the race, with the older four children each offering a primetime speech.
"These are members of his family that have been deeply engaged in the campaign," Anita McBride, former chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush and executive-in-residence at American University in Washington, D.C., told the Monitor after the Republican National Convention in July. "They are adult children, they have built a career.... It’s natural that they will remain his closest advisers and the surrogates for him in a way that is very helpful for the candidate."
Many are taking notice of the increased spotlight on the campaign daughters. In a July piece, Vanity Fair noted both the similarity in the daughters' wardrobe choices at their respective national conventions – a sheath dress – and their childhoods, where they both benefited from first-rate educations and opportunities, as well as enduring periods of marital discord between their respective parents.
"They are, indeed, their parents’ best reflections, and it is little surprise that they were – at least until recently – real friends," Emily Jane Fox wrote in Vanity Fair. "But there is also something interesting in the fact that these particular women find themselves in the role of softening their parents, of propping them up and smoothing their images, at the same time, in the same election."
Their role is similar but new as campaign children able to help with the necessary visits to small towns across the country, the fundraising, and the small-group meetings that give a personal touch.
"They’re going to spread that as far and wide as they can," Ms. McBride says.