Say what you want about the Des Moines Register’s presidential primary endorsements of Hillary Clinton and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida released Saturday night, but you’ve got acknowledge this: Iowa’s leading newspaper ain’t no bandwagon fan.
Rubio, the Register’s pick on the Republican side, is polling third in the Hawkeye State — far, far behind front-runners Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas with barely a week remaining before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. Clinton sits atop Democratic polls but she faces a far tougher than expected race against Vermont socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The Register isn’t feeling the Bern. It isn’t feeling trendy, outsider candidates, period.
For Clinton, the endorsement likely stirs up mixed emotions. It’s better to earn the Register’s backing than not — and it wouldn’t look good to have a previous endorser turn its back — but the paper’s repeat nod represents a bad kind of déjà vu.
The Register favored Clinton over then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008 for many of the same reasons it cited in picking her over Sanders on Saturday evening: her experience and perceived ability to get things done.
The presidency is not an entry-level position. Whoever is sworn into office next January must demonstrate not only a deep understanding of the issues facing America, but also possess the diplomatic skills that enable presidents to forge alliances to get things done.
By that measure, Democrats have one outstanding candidate deserving of their support: Hillary Clinton. No other candidate can match the depth or breadth of her knowledge and experience.
But those qualities and the Register’s endorsement couldn’t prevent Clinton’s collapse in Iowa eight years ago, and her lead in this year’s race has shrunk in recent weeks. She has to hope that this isn’t another kiss of death.
For Rubio, the Register endorsement is more clearly a plus. He almost certainly won’t win the Iowa caucuses but, then again, Trump and Cruz almost certainly had no chance to win the Register’s support. Historically, the paper’s Republican selections have been reliably mainstream: Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush, Bob Dole.
Trump and Cruz seemed to know their fate; they were the only two candidates who declined the Register’s invitation to meet with its editorial board. Why bother?
Since a Trump or Cruz endorsement wasn’t a realistic possibility, it basically came down to who would be named the best of the rest. Put another way, it basically came down to who the Register thinks is capable of restoring what establishment Republicans would call sanity before the GOP nominee is finally crowned. The editorial board said it like this:
Republicans have the opportunity to define their party’s future in this election. They could choose anger, pessimism and fear. Or they could take a different path.
The party could channel that frustration and pursue true reform. It could renounce its fealty to the economic elite and its fixation with tax cuts for the wealthy.
In the Register’s estimation, the man for the job is Rubio. And since he can’t leave Iowa with a caucus victory — barring a stunning upset, of course — leaving with the Register-bestowed mantle of sanity restorer is the next best thing. Saturday’s endorsement probably won’t make a difference in the state in which it was penned, but it might provide some much-needed momentum as the nominating contest moves to more moderate climates.