It didn’t go so far as to endorse Hillary Clinton — or, for that matter, libertarian Gary Johnson — but what USA Today wrote Thursday night about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made it clear who the publication’s editorial board does not, under any circumstance, want in the White House next year.

In its 34 years of existence, USA Today has had a no-endorsement policy. In a historic first that breaks 34 years of tradition, the board decided this election season to revisit its no-endorsement policy — then threw it out and penned a scathing critique of the GOP nominee that read more like an anti-endorsement.

Trump, they wrote, is “unfit for the presidency.”

“From the day he declared his candidacy 15 months ago through this week’s first presidential debate, Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that he lacks the temperament, knowledge, steadiness and honesty that America needs from its presidents,” the board wrote. “Whether through indifference or ignorance, Trump has betrayed fundamental commitments made by all presidents since the end of World War II.”

The editorial calls him “erratic,” “ill-equipped to be commander in chief” and “a serial liar.”

USA Today is not the first to break with endorsement tradition this year. It’s not even the first this week.

On Tuesday, the Arizona Republic editorial board endorsed Clinton, marking the first time it had backed a Democrat for president in its 126-year history. The Dallas Morning News, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Houston Chronicle — all with traditionally conservative editorial pages — have also backed Clinton in recent months. The Enquirer has supported Republicans for president for nearly a century. The Morning News hadn’t backed a Democrat for the White House since before World War II.

And on Thursday, the Detroit News abandoned Republicans for the first time in 143 years by endorsing the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson. As it happens, Johnson — who didn’t qualify for the general election debates and has been widely mocked for his unfamiliarity with Aleppo and all world leaders worth admiration — has collected more newspaper endorsements than Trump.

The general consensus the day after the first presidential debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump was that Trump lost. Here are five opportunities he let slip by. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

Since the primary season, the GOP nominee has received no endorsements from major publications.

Collectively, these editorials are not executed with the measured tone typical of most newspapers in most presidential election cycles. This race, they’ve all made clear, has triggered an emergency response.

It isn’t about saving conservatives from liberals or vice versa, the editorials opine. It is, in the words of the USA Today editorial, about saving America from “the siren song of a dangerous demagogue.”

“By all means vote,” the editorial reads, “just not for Donald Trump.”

Though the USA Today board was unanimous in its repudiation of Trump, it could not reach consensus on a Clinton endorsement. Some, the board wrote, “look at her command of the issues, resilience and long record of public service — as first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state — and believe she’d serve the nation ably as its president.”

Others, however, “have serious reservations about Clinton’s sense of entitlement, her lack of candor and her extreme carelessness in handling classified information,” according to the editorial.

“Where does that leave us?” the board asked. “Our bottom-line advice for voters is this: Stay true to your convictions. That might mean a vote for Clinton, the most plausible alternative to keep Trump out of the White House. Or it might mean a third-party candidate. Or a write-in. Or a focus on down-ballot candidates who will serve the nation honestly, try to heal its divisions, and work to solve its problems.”

The board wrote it was “not unmindful” of the issues Trump’s campaign has raised this election cycle, including the rise of terrorist group the Islamic State, the plight of the working class, disappearing jobs, the Supreme Court, “excessive political correctness” and urban unrest and street violence.

It ticked off, mercilessly, in boldface, its objections to Trump:

He is erratic.

He is ill-equipped to be commander in chief.

He traffics in prejudice.

His business career is checkered.

He isn’t leveling with the American people.

He speaks recklessly.

He has coarsened the national dialogue.

He’s a serial liar.

As USA Today always does when it pens an editorial, the publication ran a sidebar column addressing these GOP platform issues, written by Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

Pence defended the GOP nominee’s oratorical style, writing that Trump’s campaign reminds him of the 1980 candidacy of Ronald Reagan, “a leader whom we now regard as one of our nation’s greatest presidents.”

Reagan, he wrote, was regarded at first by the political establishment as “little more than a cowboy or a celebrity who entered politics late in life.”

“He even made some Republicans uneasy,” Pence wrote. But, along the way, “Americans from all walks of life flocked to a man who was so clearly unbound by Washington niceties and political correctness.”

“Ronald Reagan spoke the truth in 1980 to the American people,” the governor wrote, “just as Donald Trump has in 2016.”

Trump’s plan for fighting the Islamic State, repealing the Affordable Care Act, cutting taxes and appointing Supreme Court justices who will “strictly construe the Constitution and not legislate from the bench” are far superior to Clinton’s, Pence wrote.

The governor called into question the Democratic nominee’s ethics and plan for the economy.

These are issues USA Today, for its part, has reported on in its news pages and analyzed extensively in columns. In most years, according to the board, it would be most comfortable letting the American people elect a president without interference from the editorial page.

Its readers are spread across the country and are diverse in race, gender, socioeconomic status and religious affiliation.

“Different voters — a soldier in Afghanistan, a worker displaced by imports, a woman with an unplanned pregnancy — have different concerns,” the board reasoned in a separate story, explaining its decision to break from tradition.

In most elections, it wrote, the politically, ideologically and demographically diverse board “couldn’t agree on an endorsement anyway.”

This year was different.

In breaking with tradition this year, we asked ourselves what Al Neuharth, who founded USA TODAY in 1982, would have done. Like Donald Trump, Neuharth had a big ego. (Trump’s best-known book is “The Art of the Deal”; Neuharth’s was “Confessions of an S.O.B.”) But Neuharth, who died in 2013, was a champion of diversity, a defender of First Amendment freedoms and an optimist about America’s future. In a 2012 column, he described Trump as “a clown who loves doing or saying things” to get attention, “no matter how ridiculous.”

Sounds like Al was on to something.

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