In the Company Relatives — Family Members Can Hurt or Help Campaigns

Greg Markley


Mary L. Trump, a niece of former president Donald Trump, exemplifies a relative who doesn’t agree with her famous relative on most issues. But she goes further, writing a book called “Too Much and Never Enough” about her uncle. She may be an effective critic as she is a clinical psychologist as well as a person who has shared quality time with her Donald.

What was her motivation? Was it to get her abrasive uncle to be more tolerant and compassionate? Or, quite likely, to make money off a famous relative’s fame? Elements of both are present. Meanwhile, in Alabama we have a family-related situation that has arisen in the 2022 U.S. Senate race.

And recently, we’ve learned that  Republican candidate Mike Durant even turned his back on his sister, who says she was a victim of sexual abuse for years by she and Durant’s father, who admitted the crime.

The Associated Press accused Durant of “lying about years of sexual abuse at the hands of their father despite telling his sister in letters that their father had admitted to the abuse.” So says Mary Ryan, his sister. She filed a federal civil lawsuit against their father Leon Durant in New Hampshire in 1994. Ryan said their father sexually assaulted her from toddler until age 19. The lawsuit said the assaults were “almost daily” between ages 14 to 17.

For some reason, Durant’s sister chose to release a statement not to the diverse journalism community, but to the liberal Alabama political reporter. “The criminal statute of limitations had run out, leaving a civil suit as the only alternative,” Mary Ryan recalled.

She added: “My brother and family chose to support my father and mother as they attempted to avoid the consequences. They all tried to silence me.”

Durant probably did not have much time to silence his sister: Less than a year before, he had returned from a horrible wartime incident and was probably focused on recovery, not rehashing old family problems.

Should Durant have looked more into his father’s incestuous actions? Yes, of course. At least he should have visited her and comforted her. I don’t know whether he did not, but if so then surely Mary would have acknowledged her brother’s outreach at that trying time.

The Durant for Senate campaign called for U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks and Katie Boyd Britt to condemn “the disgusting, false and misleading attacks by the liberal fake news media. “Mike Durant was beaten, dragged and carried through the streets of a foreign land after being shot down in combat, only to return home to a boiling over family dispute that unfolded as he was held in captivity,” said campaign spokesman Jahan Wilcox.

On Twitter, Brooks responded that he had “zero” to do with the article by Bill Britt and Josh Moon of the Alabama Political Reporter. A spokesman for the Britt campaign told Alabama News Daily that her staff was not the source of the negative story, either.

Relatives were not the issue in the 1950 Florida campaign when George Smathers ran to upset Sen. Claude Pepper. Instead, Smathers came down hard on Pepper’s liberal bent; before “liberalism” became a dirty word. To uneducated voters in Florida in 1950, words used by Smathers sounded unseemly or even wicked — but they are not especially negative words.

In a famous campaign speech in rural northern Florida, Smathers called Pepper “a shameless extrovert” known to have engaged in “nepotism” with his sister-in-law, “whose sister was once a thespian” in wicked New York City, and who was acknowledged to have “practiced celibacy” before his marriage.

The four words to confuse uneducated people were “extrovert,” an outgoing, overtly expressive person; “nepotism,” the practice among the powerful of favoring relatives or friends, especially by providing jobs; “thespian,” relating to drama and the theater; and “celibacy,” the state of abstaining from marriage and sexual relations. Guess who won? Yes, it was Smathers, by nearly 67,000 votes!

In 2012, GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich handled questions about his ex-wife’s negative comments to a reporter a few days before with alacrity and skill. Moderator John King, acting dumb, inadvertently edged on Gingrich. Noting claims the former House speaker asked his second wife for an “open marriage,” King queried Gingrich for a response.

“Every person in here knows personal pain,” said Gingrich, to cheers. “Every person here has had someone who’s gone through personal things. To take an ex-wife and two days before the primary ask a significant question in the presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine …” Gingrich won the South Carolina primary with 40 percent of the vote. Regarding Mary Ryan’s charges against her bother Mike Durant, the jury is still out.

Greg Markley first moved to Lee County in 1996. He has Masters’ in education and history. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to the Observer for 12 years.


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