I’m among those who mourn the death of Natalie Cole. I didn’t know her personally — only through her singing, but that was enough to make me a devoted fan. She leaves behind a long list of recordings and performances that marked her as a star. Her voice and style stood alone, but she was never able to shake the attachment to her father in the public mind. When we thought of Natalie Cole, she was most often described as “the daughter of Nat King Cole.” In spite of her prodigious talent, she still was “daughter of.” Her inheritance was, as the saying goes, both a blessing and a curse. But even for those of us who loved Nat’s music, Natalie shined on her own.
Which brings us to Jeb Bush. He’s not only “son of” but also “brother of.” Unfortunately, in spite of his family’s presidential legacy, it’s beginning to look like he hasn’t done much shining on his own, at least not lately. He’s had all the connections needed to amass a huge financial war chest, but Jeb just hasn’t really gotten traction. Once again, we read stories about how the campaign operation is switching tactics and spending tons of money. Is it to crush the opposition and surge to victory in Iowa? No, it’s to avoid an embarrassment. Anything worse than a fifth-place showing in the caucuses will be considered failure. FIFTH PLACE? Whatever happened to the bromide “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”? Apparently, Jeb Bush’s goal is less lofty: He desperately wants to not lose. But at least maybe that’ll be his last game plan before the Iowa caucuses.
Meanwhile, Ben Carson has even more turmoil swirling. His top three campaign leaders decided that the time had come to pack it in, to take their job and shove it. They had grown weary of the sniping from Dr. Carson’s old buddies, particularly Armstrong Williams. Williams makes it a point to insist that he’s not connected to the presidential run, that he is Carson’s business manager. But he has made the campaign part of the business and has been all over it. Finally, the political pros said that they’d had enough of the meddling and flew the coop.
Carson put out a statement saying this was a good time to shake things up: “As we enter a new phase of the campaign cycle, it is necessary to invigorate my campaign with a strategy that more aggressively shares my vision and world-view with the American people.” By the way, this “new phase” begins less than a month before the caucuses. With all the evangelicals among Iowa Republicans, Carson must put on a very strong showing to demonstrate how well he can do with his natural base. He’ll need to overcome the growing impression that he’s befuddled and out of his league in the political ballgame.
Even these resignations were clumsily handled. A few days before they occurred, Carson had given interviews promising a shakeup. But when the stories came out, he denied it and blamed the media as usual for misreporting. Then, the aides “resigned.” Through all his klutziness, Carson manages to always appear serene, insisting in one famous tweet, “It is important to remember that amateurs built the Ark and it was the professionals that built the Titanic.”
That bit of wisdom was shared with us when he was cresting. Now, to torture the metaphor, he’s crashed into an iceberg. He’s put a retired general in charge, Robert Dees, a guy he met in church. Gen. Dees has no campaign experience.
Natalie Cole’s most memorable performance was, aptly, the song “Unforgettable,” the technological duet she recorded with her late father, who had the original smash hit. The Bushes and Carsons of this world are on the cusp of finding out whether their campaigns will endure or whether they will become entirely forgettable.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.