The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why the trickle of Hillary Clinton endorsements is bad for Hillary Clinton

Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at Georgetown University. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)
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Sens. Al Franken (Minn.) and Carl Levin (Mich.)  are the latest Democrats to jump on the Hillary Rodham Clinton bandwagon, essentially endorsing her for president in separate interviews this week. Franken, in an interview with MSNBC's Ari Melber set to air Tuesday afternoon, said that "Hillary would make a great president. I think -- I certainly feel I haven't announced that I'm supporting her, but does this count? I guess, maybe this counts." In an interview with Bloomberg TV, Levin, who is retiring at the end of the year, said, "If she decides to run I'll be there for her, but until that, that's not what I'm going to be doing. "

Both nice -- if a bit wishy-washy. Nonetheless, Clinton's supporters are understandably happy to point to them; Ready for Hillary seems to be courting Clinton endorsements, posting them on its Web site, aiming to build a firewall of establishment inevitability.

This is not the best idea.

Although the comparison to 2008 goes only so far, in this case it proves instructive. In 2008, Clinton, running in a crowded field, banked on endorsements as well.  She had a lead among super delegates.  Many members of the Congressional Black Caucus backed her, as did prominent black pastors. And in the end, having the seal of approval from the establishment didn't matter. In fact, it backfired.

Although Clinton was playing the insider's game, then-Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) was busy reshaping the Democratic electorate and playing from the outside. Clinton might have had math, but Obama had a movement to go with that math. For him, establishment endorsements confirmed that his grass-roots-style campaign wasn't just a pipe dream. For Clinton, endorsements proved only that she was the party favorite. And the weight of the establishment's expectations felled her.

Running up the score with endorsements is not only a waste of time given that there is no real field, but also because endorsements don't move voters. Endorsements are pure symbolism and political theater. But it's not the kind that Clinton needs at all. With antiestablishment fervor running rampant, Clinton would do well to stop reminding the populist base that she's such an entrenched establishment figure, especially as Elizabeth Warren keeps reminding that same base that she's one of them.