Special Bulletin. The New York Times Endorsements and the Iowa Caucuses

On January 31, The New York Times published endorsements of Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president and John Kasich for the Republican nomination.  The Clinton endorsement was ringing and enthusiastic while that of Kasich was a bit grudging and in the “best of a bad lot” genre. Predictably, neither endorsement had any perceptible effect in Iowa, although Clinton’s “victory” over Bernie Sanders was so tiny that one cannot exclude the possibility that the endorsement could have tipped the balance. On the Republican side, Kasich finished well toward the bottom and, to the extent that Republican voters noticed the Times editorial at all, any endorsement from that source might well have counted more as a negative than a positive. (The last Republican endorsed by The New York Times in a general election was Dwight Eisenhower in 1956.)

We will not pause to comment on the individual encomiums included in the bouquet the Times presented to Secretary Clinton, but we did note that they were quietly interrupted by the brief acknowledgment that campaign attacks “about Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server, are legitimate and deserve forthright answers.” We would counsel readers not to hold their breath awaiting forthright answers from Secretary Clinton. If such answers emerge they are more likely to come from FBI Director James Comey. While television commentators on the evening of the caucuses noted that Democratic voters simply didn’t care about the email issue, the time may come when they, and Secretary Clinton, may be forced to care. As The Wall Street Journal observed today:

If the FBI recommends a misdemeanor or worse, there will be an uproar even if Attorney General Loretta Lynch declines to act on it. Mr. Sanders has to let Democrats know that in Mrs. Clinton they could be elevating a very wounded nominee.

The Times editorial on Kasich was titled “A Chance to Reset the Republican Race.” It rejected Donald Trump and Ted Cruz as “equally objectionable for different reasons,” and cited reasons with which we are in full agreement. Before turning to Governor Kasich, the Times also dismissed, rather too quickly in our view, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie. As to Kasich, the Times commented:

Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, though a distinct underdog, is the only plausible choice for Republicans tired of the extremism and inexperience on display in this race. And Mr. Kasich is no moderate. As governor, he’s gone after public-sector unions, fought to limit abortion rights and opposed same-sex marriage.

Still, as a veteran of partisan fights and bipartisan deals during nearly two decades in the House, he has been capable of compromise and believes in the ability of government to improve lives. He favors a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and he speaks of government’s duty to protect the poor, the mentally ill and others “in the shadows.” While Republicans in Congress tried more than 60 times to kill Obamacare, Mr. Kasich did an end-run around Ohio’s Republican Legislature to secure a $13 Billion Medicaid expansion to cover more people in his state.

For our part, we also disagree with Kasich’s views on abortion and same-sex marriage, but do not regard them as disqualifying. And while his expansion of Medicaid has been an anathema to some Republicans, we have found his explanation to be persuasive. He has argued, among other things, that expanding Medicaid will save the government money in the long run by providing health care to more adults who are mentally ill or addicted: “Would you rather have a drug addict in a prison at $22,500 a year or would you rather rehabilitate him and turn him into a working person who pays taxes?”

The Iowa caucuses are an event for which we have long held very little enthusiasm. One of our earliest comments, Blog No. 9, on August 13, 2013 was titled “Why Iowa?”  and questioned its value to the nominating process. That blog was prompted by, of all things, an interview of Donald Trump at the Iowa State Fair.  At that point a potential Trump candidacy was the proverbial “cloud no bigger than a man’s hand” and the interviewer asked Trump what he would say to persons who would view his candidacy as a joke. Trump, however, made it clear that he took the idea of a candidacy seriously and, in a glimpse of things to come, proclaimed that support of immigration reform would be a “death wish” for the Republican Party.

Blog No. 9 pointed out a number of problems with the Iowa caucus, among them the fact that:

Caucuses and conventions are dominated, even more than primaries, by party activists who, in the Republican Party, tend to be its most conservative members, often evangelical Christians. Thus, their inclination is to support candidates who are rigidly conservative—and correspondingly less able to attract moderates and independents in a general election.

That is, we suggest, a fairly accurate explanation for the success of Senator Cruz in this year’s caucus.

The 2016 Iowa caucus did serve a constructive purpose in that it appeared to slow down, if not derail, the Trump express. As we have made clear, our hope for the contest between Trump and Cruz is that eventually it might prove fatal to the political prospects of both. Perhaps the Iowa caucus was the first step in that process. If Iowa was a serious blow to Trump, perhaps Cruz will suffer a similar experience in New Hampshire, where Trump has a substantial lead in polls. In the meantime, Marco Rubio emerged from Iowa with a strong third place finish that made him as much a winner as Cruz. It may be that Rubio’s success in Iowa will propel him into the position of being “the establishment candidate” to challenge Trump and Cruz, and we believe his nomination would be greatly preferable to that of either. On the other hand, we are not yet persuaded that Rubio would make a stronger candidate in the general election, or a better president, than Kasich, Bush or, perhaps, Christie. We, like everyone else, will have to await the events in New Hampshire and beyond to see how things develop.

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We will be leaving this week for some travel overseas. That means missing the New Hampshire primary and the opportunity for immediate comment, but we plan to be back in business before the end of the month. We expect there will still be some things to write about then.

5 thoughts on “Special Bulletin. The New York Times Endorsements and the Iowa Caucuses

  • Does the endorsement by the NYT mean that Kasich is the most Democratic looking Republican candidate? That might turn off at least a few potential supporters.

  • Hi Doug,
    I had precisely the same reaction to the NYT endorsement of Kasich…a “bit grudging” to put it mildly. But probably doesn’t matter…where would he tout a Times endorsement outside of Shaker Heights?
    As to the Iowa results, I was pleased that a hole was poked in Trump’s “I win everything” balloon, but Cruz is equally odious, and Rubio increasingly reminds me of the Reese Witherspoon character in the movie “Election.” Arghh. Or maybe I’m just getting old.
    Have a great holiday abroad!

  • I remain of the view, consistent with that of the Times, that Kasich is the only acceptable Republican candidate. Rubio can be inspirational in his rhetoric but, like the criticism levied by Governor Christie, it all sounds memorized. Equally important, his policies — and jingoistic rhetoric — should give everyone substantial pause. In the end, I am of the opinion that while the Senator may have the capacity of absorbing a large amount of programmed information, he does not possess the facility of mind to be president. Add to that his lack of experience. Governor Christie, on the other hand, displays intelligence and political aptitude. The problem is that he is a bully (verging, if not passing over into, a personality disorder) and — whatever comparable criticism one wishes to make as to Secretary Clinton — ethically challenged. In addition, his tenure as governor of New Jersey has been characterized by attempts at financial legerdemain that have fallen flat on their face. A different Chris Christie might make a decent president; however, take Chris Christie as he is, not as we wish him to be. In contrast to the New Jersey governor, Jeb Bush seems like a decent sort. His instincts appear to trend toward kindness. But Bush has displayed an inability to connect to people — or run an effective campaign. These criticisms are equally applicable to Governor Kasich, but I conclude as the Times did that Kasich is more mainstream and, accordingly, more palatable to this less than happy Democrat.

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