Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the country’s original political power couple out of Texas – Jim “Pa” Ferguson and Miriam “Ma” Ferguson. Jim served as Texas’ 26th governor from 1914 to 1915. Miriam had two separate terms and served as the governor 1925 to 1927 and from 1932 to 1935.
I’ve also been thinking about the Fergusons in the context of another political power couple of our time: the Clintons.
Here’s where I believe the two are similar: both the Clintons and the Fergusons started with the husband winning first as a Democrat, and then coming under a legal cloud of suspicion. The wife was then called upon to uphold the family’s honor.
Hillary Clinton did this as early as 1992 in a 60 Minutes show. Both Miriam Ferguson and Hillary Clinton then ran for office to further vindicate the family name, with the husbands hovering in the background, acting – for the most part – strategically and supportively.
Both Bill Clinton and Jim Ferguson provide good copy. Bill Clinton compared the Trump candidacy to “road rage,” and Jim Ferguson called Miriam’s opponent Dan Moody, a “coward” and a “sissy.”
Even their implied strengths are similar. The Fergusons liked to say in Miriam’s 1924 election that Texans could get “two for the price of one” – a phrase Bill Clinton used referring to him and Hillary in 1992. For practical reasons, there is a viable cloning effect when there are such stringent limitations on a candidate’s time and ability to meet voters. Jim and Bill have acted as their spouses’ powerful campaign surrogates.
Then there’s the “Bonnie and Clyde” scenario. In 1924, and again in 1932, the Fergusons gathered strength as they often saw themselves up against a jail term if their opponents won. Miriam’s opponent – Dan Moody – even promised to put Jim Ferguson in the Huntsville State Prison.
Likewise, Donald Trump and other Republican leaders, like Chris Christie, have stated that Hillary violated federal laws. Who can forget this summer’s chants of “Lock her up”? The Clintons could run against this tide like Bonnie and Clyde, where the couple sticks together in a couple-up-against-the-world scenario that can be championed against a legal rap.
Unlike the Fergusons, the Clintons are not a symbiotic super couple. The Fergusons were stronger together and had no charges of infidelity. In fact, Ma’s picture as governor had an empty chair by the desk implying Jim’s presence. Jim and Miriam Ferguson were synchronized. In photos you can see their eyes meeting. The synergy the Fergusons had was comforting to voters. The Clintons don’t do this as well.
What the Clintons are and the Fergusons were is what I call true believers. It’s been argued that Nancy Reagan basically made Ronald Reagan. She functioned as the true believer – the most dedicated shaper and maker. She instilled confidence and ruthlessly sifted out the lukewarm members of the campaign. Neither the Clintons nor Fergusons made a major candidate from the ground up in the way Nancy Reagan did, but they have functioned in this capacity of the true believer.
So, if you ever want to know how a power couple is made, learn from the Fergusons in Texas because we still don’t know how the Clintons’ story ends.