John McCain, Mitt Romney and the Fix Endorsement Hierarchy
“I‘m really here for one reason and one reason only and that is to make sure that we make Mitt Romney the next President of the United States.” — Arizona Sen. John McCain in New Hampshire today.
As soon as the news broke — kudos to BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith for breaking it — that McCain would endorse Romney as his preferred candidate in the 2012 presidential race, the political world has been asking just one question: Where does this fit into the Fix Endorsement Hierarchy?
For the uninitiated, the Endorsement Hierarchy is our attempt to catalogue and rank the various types of political endorsements. Our general theory is that most endorsements don’t matter much. But, there are differences and the Endorsement Hierarchy was created to detail those differences.
(The full Endorsement Hierarchy is at the bottom of this post.)
After spending some time — maybe too much time — thinking about the McCain for Romney endorsement, we’ve decided that there is a difference between where the former Massachusetts governor and his team hope it fits in our hierarchy and where it actually does fit.
From the Romney perspective, McCain amounts to a “symbolic endorsement” — the best and most influential category in our hierarchy.
McCain’s endorsement — to their mind(s) — is symbolic of two things: 1) The old guard of the GOP — McCain, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole etc — is firmly lined up behind Romney and 2) Romney has buried the hatchet(s) from the 2008 campaign when McCain — and the rest of the field — made little attempt to disguise their distaste for him.
Both of those things are true. There is NO question that the party establishment views Romney as their best/only chance of beating President Obama next fall and are rallying to his side. And, Romney does deserve credit for diffusing the tensions left over from the last race — not just with McCain but with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee as well.
But, McCain’s endorsement still doesn’t rise to the symbolic level in our mind. Instead, we are classifying it as a “national endorsement” — the third highest endorsement category in our hierarchy.
McCain retains a national profile thanks to his status as the party’s most recent presidential nominee, remains a respected voice on foreign policy and national security matters and is a regular presence on the Sunday talk show circuit.
He also has tremendous loyalty among Republicans (and independents) in New Hampshire — McCain is kind of like the state’s third Senator — and further cements Romney as a clear favorite in next Tuesday’s Granite State primary.
All of those things will help Romney both in the near term — there are six days left before the New Hampshire vote — and in the longer term if the race for the nomination drags out into February and March.
We did give some credence to the theory — suggested by quite a few Fixistas — that McCain’s endorsement of Romney could do more harm than good.
That theory goes like this: Romney is going to win New Hampshire with or without McCain. The only thing that McCain’s endorsement does for Romney then is reinforce the idea that the former Massachusetts governor is the moderate in the field, the sensible centrist with an uneasy relationship with the party’s base.
Seen through that lens, the McCain for Romney endorsement could well resemble what happened when former Vice President Al Gore backed former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in late 2003. Rather than boost Dean, it was a visible sign to his backers that he was being co-opted by the very party establishment that he had run so successfully against.
(We liked this idea so much we added another endorsement category to the Endorsement Hierarchy — the “Backfire Endorsement”. Get it?)
Maybe the McCain endorsement will turn into something short of beneficial for Romney in the long run. But at the moment, the McCain endorsement does more good than harm for the frontrunner.
The Fix Endorsement Hierarchy (ranked in order of influence)
* The Symbolic Endorsement: Ted Kennedy backing Barack Obama during the 2008 primaries.
* The In-State Statewide Endorsement: Florida Gov. Charlie Crist throwing his support to John McCain just before the Sunshine State presidential primary in 2008.
* The National Endorsement: Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty for Romney.
* The Celebrity Endorsement: Chuck Norris for Mike Huckabee in 2008.
* The Newspaper Endorsement: The Washington Post endorsing state Sen. Creigh Deeds in the 2009 Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary.
* Out-of-State Statewide Endorsement: South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint endorsing former Florida state House Speaker Marco Rubio in the 2010 Senate primary.
* The What Goes Around Comes Around Endorsement: Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani endorsing former state House Speaker Marco Rubio in the 2010 Florida Senate primary.
* The Obligatory Endorsement: Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran endorsing McCain’s presidential bid in 2008.
* The “Me for Me” Endorsement: Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) endorsing Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak’s (D) Senate campaign.
* The Non-Endorsement Endorsement: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) passing on an endorsement of Sen. David Vitter’s (R) 2010 re-election bid.
* The Backfire Endorsement: Former Vice President Al Gore endorsing former Vermont governor Howard Dean in the 2004 presidential race.
* The Pariah Endorsement: Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (D) endorsing anyone.