Today’s reminder of the fundamental absurdity of the process by which the huddled masses of America select the leader of their nation, and thus of the free world, comes to us courtesy of New Hampshire, where the state’s largest newspaper, the Union-Leader, this weekend endorsed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for President of the United States.
Because of New Hampshire’s exalted status as the “First in the Nation” primary state, the Union-Leader’s endorsement is highly prized. But how about the conservative paper’s track record? Here are its presidential endorsements for the last few Republican primaries:
- 2016: Chris Christie
- 2012: Newt Gingrich
- 2008: John McCain
- 2004: George W. Bush
- 2000: Steve Forbes
- 1996: Pat Buchanan
- 1992: Pat Buchanan
- 1988: Pierre DuPont
Of its seven most recent presidential endorsements, the U-L managed to pick the eventual Republican nominee exactly twice, and on one of those times he was a sitting president who was running unopposed. Beyond that, its choices were a guy best remembered for his enthusiasm for colonizing the moon, a wealthy publishing scion in the middle of the least successful of several very unsuccessful vanity campaigns, a white nationalist whose extreme right-wing views played a part in driving moderates away from the GOP and helped cost George H.W. Bush re-election, and a person whose name everyone outside of Delaware just read and said “Who?”
This endorsement is the political equivalent of that short stretch of Interstate 95 through New Hampshire that serves mostly to connect Maine and Massachusetts. You understand the reason for its existence, but at the end of the day, it’s a nothing detour that you're forced to traverse but will rightfully forget about five minutes later. Its purpose served, you won’t even think about it until the next time you pass through--much in the same way the country thinks about New Hampshire in the years between national elections.
None of this tempered the excitement tossed Christie’s way after the endorsement appeared online Saturday night. CNN.com said his “struggling presidential campaign got a much-needed boost.” The Wall Street Journal also suggested the endorsement could “boost the…struggling campaign.” Maggie Haberman of the New York Times suggested the endorsement gave Christie a “lift” while noting the U-L’s “mixed record with recent endorsements,” which is a bit like saying the Chicago Cubs have a mixed record with recent pennant wins.
In Christie, the U-L has endorsed a candidate hovering around three percent in the national polls and five percent in New Hampshire, good enough for seventh place. Feel the Christiementum!
I snark about this not to disparage all of New Hampshire, a beautiful state in which I’ve spent some fun times. I’m more repelled by the political convention that grants it, along with Iowa, such exalted status in the presidential race that a loss there is the kiss of death for some otherwise possibly-not-terrible candidates. (Just ask the aforementioned Pierre DuPont, who finished next to last in New Hampshire in 1988 and dropped out of the race the next day.) In the calculus of the political press, a candidate who cannot “get traction” in New Hampshire is running a doomed campaign.
It is this narrow thinking that has led Christie to pour resources into the state in recent weeks, to the point where he has apparently personally called and texted all 1.3 million of its residents and turned over every rock chasing endorsements from Republican leaders there. The Union-Leader and its publisher, Joseph McQuaid, is considered a huge get, perhaps the biggest yet for the struggling campaign.
Yet if current polling is accurate, my back-of-the-envelope calculations say Christie has the support of about 25,000 voters. And that doesn’t account for how many of them will actually trudge to the polls in February to cast a vote for him. As big as the Union-Leader endorsement is for the political press to holler about, it likely won’t move the needle for Christie in a notable way.
We grant New Hampshire this importance out of tradition -- and also because the politicos in the state throw an enormous fit anytime the parties try to give a more populous, diverse state the nation’s first primary on the theory that it’s ridiculous in our increasingly multicultural society for half a million overwhelmingly white people to give such an enormous boost to a candidate’s chances of winning the nomination.
So you have the spectacle of a sitting governor spending almost more time in New Hampshire than in his own state for a year leading up to the primary, laying out millions of dollars to win votes in the hope of creating the illusion of momentum that he can carry into other primaries. And, as of right now, failing pretty badly. Yet we’ll dutifully pretend that the Union-Leader’s endorsement matters.
It’s a silly and absurd process that breeds cynicism about our presidential election. And rightfully so.