The utility of endorsements

7 mins read

Thank goodness Nov. 8th is just under two weeks out. As much as campaign season gets us all hot and bothered in one way or another, a year and a half is an exhausting amount of time to focus on one race.

Since its beginnings in April 2015, the campaign has been characterized by buzzing rhetoric and attacks that have told us not about the candidates, but rather their abilities to turn a phrase. What I think is more worthwhile is the analysis of the candidates; from their records to their plans, other political leaders and the press must act to help the public understand those seeking a place in Washington come January.

What often comes of these discussions on candidates is the final nail in the coffin—the endorsement. A senator or a business executive holds a briefing, or a newspaper publishes an editorial. They give their stamp of approval, explain why, and stay for the ride until the campaign closes.

Endorsements seem to be a useful tool, but where do they fail? How can they reasonably help the public choose the best option for its own welfare? Largely, it depends.

Let me first walk through individuals’ endorsements. Waking up late on the first day of fall break, I opened my phone to the usual dozens of news alerts. I did not have to read them to know what they said because I had seen the Washington Post’s unveiling of Trump’s now infamous Access Hollywood tape the night before. What I did not anticipate was the number of meetings and conferences held by congressional Republicans to pull their endorsements.

Thinking back on the primaries, I remembered a number of those same officeholders, like John McCain, promising to back whosoever became the nominee, even as rude-mouthed and marginalizing bankrupter Trump was looking more and more like the victor.

This is where endorsement is unsuccessful. Sure, it could be said that these taped comments were the straw that broke the camel’s back—and that must have been one strong camel—but these comments, sadly, are not far removed from those he has made since day one of his campaign, particularly those attacking the bodily safety of migrants and immigrants. It follows, then, that I see this as not as an issue of words but more of convenience. Anyone who had publicly supported Trump had an easy out to save their seat in government.

They should not have endorsed him at all. Their repeal, however, suggests that these leaders favor party unity over the welfare of the constituency and others, directly opposing their highest duties as democratically elected representatives of the people. This is when the practice of endorsement breaks down because it conflicts with the fundamentals of a job in government.

However, I would argue that partisanship can be expected nowadays in the public sector and press. What is more noteworthy and worth examining are the unexpected ways in which the press played a role in this election.

Some newspaper endorsements are anticipated and have a limited capacity to incite change in their readers. The New York Times, The New Yorker, and the Washington Post each have endorsed Clinton, but they are unlikely to swing many individuals to vote blue. Each of these publications has a reliably liberal readership and has probably turned off large numbers conservative individuals from reading. By drawing lines of readership in the sand, their choir preaching only exacerbates the partisanship that the members of Congress exemplify.

However, when papers choose to endorse a candidate without precedent or opt to endorse an unexpected candidate, sizeable changes in the electorate can occur. The Atlantic has only endorsed three candidates for the presidency since its founding in 1857, and USA Today has chosen to support Not Trump, the first time it has ever taken action in a presidential race. The Phoenix has so far decided not to endorse any candidate.

Even more importantly, local papers and organizations are better equipped and able to analyze how policies can affect a specific community. The Dallas Morning News, for the first time in 76 years, is backing a Democrat for the White House. The Arizona Republic did the same for the first time in its 126 year history. The Swarthmore Conservative Society now supports Johnson over the Republican ticket. Each of these actions demonstrates a commitment among organizations to help create a future that they think will be most efficient and equitable or to give rise to other voices that might not be heard in a regular election year.

To make a quick concession, endorsements can be a way to promote the political establishment by bringing people into its folds. To combat this potential issue, endorsements can be used to hold individuals and organizations accountable to their constituents, which we have seen happen since the Access Hollywood tape release.

The idea of endorsements is a potent one. They draw attention and can tie individuals and organizations to one another vocally, but they can become tired when overused and easily anticipated. It would be best to focus energies on vetting candidates more thoroughly throughout the long election process and using endorsements as a means to excite thought and political activism at the subsidiary level.

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