Perhaps the fact that the spouse of the presumptive 2016 Democratic presidential nominee is himself a former President would make it inevitable that his own record as Chief Executive would be likely to be turned into a campaign issue, whether it reflected on his presidential record on issues such as the crime bill or personal life. There have already been questions raised by Republican foes of his wife’s candidacy about Clinton’s life as a former president, involving his foundation, with the intention of making it an issue.
Yet even if this unique situation were not the case, there would remain a good chance of it occurring. In the last several months during the primary campaign, the professional advantage that may have been given to Heidi Cruz, wife of one of the Republican candidates who dropped out, while she was employed at the investment company of Goldman Sachs was raised during the primary season.
Despite the claims of the media and any given political opposition they were facing that a presidential candidate’s spouse and family members were “off-limits” as campaign issues, the first example of it occurred early on, during the 1808 presidential campaign.
The first two candidates’ spouses who their husbands’ opposition sought to create an issue of involved Dolley Madison in 1808 and Rachel Jackson in 1828.
In the case of the first one, there were lurid tales suggesting she had committed adultery with none other than Thomas Jefferson, strong ally of her husband who served the third president’s Secretary of State. There was no truth to the tales.
In the second case, that of Rachel Jackson, it had been the divorce by her first husband that was not only true but became a full-blown and central issue of her husband’s 1828 campaign.
Apart from the moral questions the opposition sought to raise by suggesting she was, as one campaign tract put it, a “wanton woman,” the fact that she married Jackson only on the claim that her first husband had obtained a divorce from her, rather than the verification was used to imply that Jackson, then a lawyer, had failed to act professionally and would do likewise as president.
Later tales that Peggy Taylor remained “hidden” as First Lady was due to her being a crude “white of the wilds” too coarse to preside over sophisticated social functions at the White House.
The root of this, however, may well have been the numerous stories that appeared in the press during her husband’s 1848 campaign, which emphasized her displeasure with Zach Taylor’s candidacy and lack of any interest in going to Washington.
Taylor himself made an issue of his wife’s disinterest, making jokes at his own expense for defying his wife’s wishes.
As the incumbent First Lady, Mary Lincoln feared that her overspending federal appropriations for furnishing the White House did turn up in a smaller form during her husband’s 1864 reelection campaign.
The campaign of her husband’s Democratic opponent churned out a small pamphlet listing grievances of the Lincoln Administration and including a separate topic entitled “Mrs. Lincoln’s Crockery,” a reference to her purchase of two purple state china sets, one for the White House and another, apparently, for private use.
The topic was addressed simply as a matter of frivolous indulgence during wartime, not a question of the china purchase on government funds. Despite her fears, it never mushroomed into a serious issue – nor did it lead her critics to the knowledge of her larger overspending.
Ida McKinley suffered from a number of ailments, the most confounding being the brain dysfunction known as epilepsy.
Since it was still equated at the time with a type of insanity, her husband went to great lengths to hide the true nature of her condition.
In fact, it was a primary reason he decided to conduct his 1896 campaign from the front-porch of their rented home.
Still, as voter delegations came to hear William McKinley deliver his campaign speeches at his home, stories began to circulate about Mrs. McKinley in the western states that ranged from the reasonable suggestion that she had some type of disorder to wildly illogical ones that had no possible derivation in the truth about her epilepsy, such as claims she was a spy or a Catholic.
Ultimately, the campaign felt the threat of perception that there was something wrong with Ida McKinley led the campaign to commission a biography about her life, the first such publication about a presidential candidate’s spouse.
It was the first alleged marriage and the birth of her son that threatened to become a campaign issue in 1920 when Florence Harding’s husband was running for President.
The fact that there has never been any record in any county of Ohio that proved she had married Henry DeWolfe, which would have made the birth of their son Marshall a legitimate one, threatened to be raised by Democrats as a campaign issue intended to reflect poorly on the morality of the candidate in a far more judgmental era.
As the Democratic vice-presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt recorded, however, in a private letter to the president of Harvard University, the Harding campaign knew well about the love affairs of the Democratic candidate James Cox and both campaigns decided not to pull out either of the personal issues on the opposition.
Like Mrs. Lincoln, it was the issue of extravagant spending that was leveled against Jacqueline Kennedy, in addition to the fact that she’d been educated in Europe, went fox hunting and had a strong affinity for the French culture.
This shaped a persona of her as being an elitist that the average American would feel little to no affinity for, and it became a serious concern of her husband’s campaign advisers who were relieved that her pregnancy during the 1960 campaign naturally kept her from frequent public exposure.
Still, she could handle the issue herself, responding that reports of her expensive clothing taste were exaggerated and had nothing to do with her husband’s qualifications to serve as president.
While she was First Lady, Betty Ford openly discussed social issues including drug use, abortion, mental health, and premarital sex during 1974 and 1975 in media interviews.
Later, her openness was seen as a healthy break from a more repressive demeanor expected of political spouses, to refrain from acknowledging often contentious yet common family issues.
At the time, however, advisers on her husband’s 1976 campaign feared she would alienate conservative voters within the Republican Party during the primary season.
There were times when a sharp contrast was drawn between her and Nancy Reagan, the wide of Governor Ronald Reagan then challenging President Ford for the nomination. In the general election, however, the issue faded when Ford faced the more liberal Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter, While many depicted his wife Rosalynn as holding more conservative views than Betty Ford, that perception was not enough to draw disaffected Republicans to vote against the Ford candidacy.