Republicans become entangled by family feuds over politics

Republicans become entangled by family feuds over politics
© Greg Nash - Anna Moneymaker

Thanksgiving dinner could get awkward for some political families this year. 

Bobby Goodlatte, the son of retiring Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteThe job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line No documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden MORE (R-Va.), raised eyebrows over the weekend when he announced that he had donated to the Democrat running for his father’s seat. 

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On Monday, he went further, saying he was “deeply embarrassed” that his
father’s “political grandstanding” cost FBI agent Peter Strzok his job. Strzok was fired on Monday after an investigation of anti-Trump texts he sent while involved in investigations of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty MORE and Russian election interference. 

The same day, White House aide Stephen Miller’s uncle wrote a scathing editorial calling his nephew an “immigration hypocrite” and comparing President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE to Nazis. 

The uncle, David Glosser, later told CNN that “dozens of family members” encouraged him to pen the editorial about his nephew. 

Political disagreements within families are hardly new, but fights seem to be spilling into public view more frequently with the rise of social media and the political polarization of the Trump era.

“It used to be politics stopped at the water’s edge. Now, politics doesn’t even stop at the dinner table,” said Craig Shirley, a presidential historian and President Reagan biographer. “The difference is that the parties are so sharply divided now — that, plus Trump, plus social media, plus cable television have sharpened the divide.”

Trump officials at times haven’t appeared to be on the same page as spouses. 

Presidential counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayPoll from conservative group shows tight governor's race in Virginia Psaki defends move to oust Trump appointees from military academy boards Defense & National Security: The post-airlift evacuation struggle MORE’s husband has repeatedly jabbed Trump on Twitter, often retweeting messages that are critical of his wife’s boss.

In one particularly biting tweet, George Conway, who was once under consideration for U.S. solicitor general, said it was “absurd” that Trump often says one thing but then does another. 

“Which is why people are banging down the doors to be his comms director,” he added sarcastically.

Kellyanne Conway says she has been offered the White House communications director role “many times.” 

Even first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpFormer aide sees Melania Trump as 'the doomed French queen': book If another 9/11 happened in a divided 2021, could national unity be achieved again? Former Trump aide Stephanie Grisham planning book: report MORE’s public comments have received scrutiny for any signs of disagreement with her husband. 

After Trump attacked NBA star LeBron James on Twitter, the first lady’s spokeswoman put out a statement backing James and praising his work with children. 

“It looks like LeBron James is working to do good things on behalf of our next generation and just as she always has, the First Lady encourages everyone to have an open dialogue about issues facing children today,” first lady spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in the statement. 

Glosser, Miller’s uncle, said he has watched with “dismay and increasing horror” as his nephew has become “the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country.”

Glosser noted that he has been posting his opinions on the country’s immigration policies for the “past year or two,” but his stinging rebuke of Miller and the administration drew national attention this week.

“This is a very public, unusually high-profile reprimand from a family member about the point man on public policy,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.

Family feuds, however, are hardly unique to the Trump administration.

President Obama had to deal with his half-brother Malik Obama, who came out in support of Trump during the 2016 presidential race and even attended the final presidential debate as Trump’s guest.

“[The presidency] has changed him. I think he’s been sucked into the matrix and mesmerized by the power,” Malik Obama told Fox News at the time, adding that he was “disappointed” in his half-brother. “He was humble, he would listen, there was a soft side to him. But now, he’s too formal and stiff.”

The daughters of former Vice President Dick Cheney have publicly sparred over whether same-sax marriage should be legal. The family riff intensified when Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in Trump, allies launch onslaught as midterms kick into gear The Memo: Never Trumpers sink into gloom as Gonzalez bows out MORE (R) ran for the Senate in Wyoming and refused to support same-sex marriage; her sister Mary is a lesbian who married her longtime partner.

And some of Reagan’s children were outspoken liberals, including Patti Davis, an activist who openly protested her father’s nuclear policies.

“Reagan’s own children were both very liberal. They never agreed with their father on anything,” Shirley said.

Family political disputes date back as early as Benjamin Franklin, whose son was imprisoned for being a steadfast loyalist during the American Revolutionary War.

And in 1912, President Theodore Roosevelt’s son-in-law supported William Howard Taft over his own Bull Moose presidential candidacy.

But the trend seems to be escalating in modern history, which historians attribute to a more combative political environment and the growing number of platforms where people can voice their public opinions.

“Part of this has to do with the sheer volume of media outlets in 2018, where there are more platforms for family critics, this mad, to say something and to do so in a big way,” said Zelizer. “Part of this also has to do with just how dramatic the policy decisions have been in certain areas, which are enough to rip families apart.”