Friday, September 30, 2016

The realpolitik hallelujah chorus:
Clinton resets the endorsement clock

BY ROLLING back the clock of regional journalistic customs, Hillary Clinton’s making history right now, gaining high-profile newspaper endorsements that could be easily ignored (as some people think all newspaper endorsements are or should be) if it weren’t for the inconvenient fact of where they’re from.

From deep in the heart of Texas:

On July 29, The Houston Chronicle endorsed Clinton:

“The Chronicle editorial page does not typically endorse early in an election cycle; we prefer waiting for the campaign to play out and for issues to emerge and be addressed. We make an exception in the 2016 presidential race, because the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is not merely political. It is something much more basic than party preference. ...

“Any one of Trump's less-than-sterling qualities — his erratic temperament, his dodgy business practices, his racism, his Putin-like strongman inclinations and faux-populist demagoguery, his contempt for the rule of law, his ignorance - is enough to be disqualifying. His convention-speech comment, "I alone can fix it," should make every American shudder. He is, we believe, a danger to the Republic.”

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The editors of the Dallas Morning News smartly broke its choices into two separate editorials. The paper primed the pump on Sept. 6, with a blistering non-endorsement of Trump — the first time the newspaper has refused to endorse the Republican nominee for president since 1964.

“We reject the politics of personal destruction... Trump’s values are hostile to conservatism.” The editorial reads: “He plays on fear — exploiting base instincts of xenophobia, racism, and misogyny — to bring out the worst in all of us, rather than the best. His serial shifts on fundamental issues reveal an astounding absence of preparedness. And his improvisational insults and midnight tweets exhibit a dangerous lack of judgment and impulse control.”

"Trump is — or has been — at odds with nearly every GOP ideal this newspaper holds dear,” The News continued. “Donald Trump is no Republican and certainly no conservative."

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THE NEWS editorial board mentioned a few of Trump’s greatest hits, including his kissy-face relationship with the leadership style of Russian president Vladimir Putin and his denunciation of the Trans Pacific Partnership as the "rape of our country."

"It's not easy to offer a shorthand list of such tenets, since Trump flips from one side to the other, issue after issue, sometimes within a single news cycle," the editorial continued. "Regardless, his ideas are so far from Republicanism that they have spawned a new description: Trumpism."
“We have no interest in a Republican nominee for whom all principles are negotiable, nor in a Republican Party that is willing to trade away principle for pursuit of electoral victory.”

"Trump doesn't reflect Republican ideals of the past; we are certain he shouldn't reflect the GOP of the future," the editorial concluded. "Donald Trump is not qualified to serve as president and does not deserve your vote."

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The next day, Sept. 7, the Morning News took the next step, endorsing Clinton, with some subliminal reluctance (understandable given their track record of endorsing Republicans) but with an embrace of what might best be called civic pragmatism. She was the first Democratic presidential candidate backed by the paper in more than 75 years.

The News editors admitted that Democrats are generally “at odds with our belief in private-sector ingenuity and innovation.”

“We don’t come to this decision easily. This newspaper has not recommended a Democrat for the nation’s highest office since before World War II — if you’re counting, that’s more than 75 years and nearly 20 elections,” the editorial board wrote.

But “[r]ésumé vs. résumé, judgment vs. judgment, this election is no contest,” The News said. Trump “plays on fear — exploiting base instincts of xenophobia, racism and misogyny — to bring out the worst in all of us, rather than the best.”

“His serial shifts on fundamental issues reveal an astounding absence of preparedness,” the News continued. “And his improvisational insults and midnight tweets exhibit a dangerous lack of judgment and impulse control.”

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IF ENDORSEMENTS are aimed at anyone, it’s the people who read the paper. Some reactions to the Morning News’ backing of Clinton reflect a heartening sense of trust and loyalty, or, if readers disagree, a feeling much like the betrayal of a best friend.

Sarah_Wise disagrees with the endorsement: “I have been a loyal reader of the paper for over 30 years. Even picked you over Dallas Times Herald. ... for the most part I have been very pleased with the job you do. For this I will miss you and will never again be a customer. Never, ever have I been more disappointed in a company I respected. The lack of integrity this reveals is disheartening. Your reasons for this endorsement are foolish and nearsighted.”

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George_Erhard would beg to differ: “No, HRC would not be the best choice. But Donald Trump is the Worst. Choice. Ever. for POTUS. That is not hyperbole.

“It's time people got past the memes and the insults and woke up, before we elect a pathological liar and professional scam artist to run our country, instead of a Secretary of State and Senator who, quite frankly, could do the job easily, so that most of us could sleep at night.

“As for her 'honesty', wake up, Texas, we've been electing dishonest people to office since the Republic became a State. And we've not batted an eye about it...”

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OR THERE’S what’s up deep in the heart of Ohio: The Cincinnati Enquirer broke with its own long Republican-leaning tradition to back Clinton in a Sept. 23 editorial:

“The Enquirer has supported Republicans for president for almost a century – a tradition this editorial board doesn’t take lightly. But this is not a traditional race, and these are not traditional times. Our country needs calm, thoughtful leadership to deal with the challenges we face at home and abroad. We need a leader who will bring out the best in all Americans, not the worst.

“That’s why there is only one choice when we elect a president in November: Hillary Clinton. ...

“Trump’s rise through a crowded Republican primary field as well as Sanders' impressive challenge on the Democratic side make clear that the American people yearn for a change in our current state of politics. However, our country needs to seek thoughtful change, not just change for the sake of change. Four years is plenty of time to do enough damage that it could take America years to recover from, if at all.

“In these uncertain times, America needs a brave leader, not bravado. Real solutions, not paper-thin promises. A clear eye toward the future, not a cynical appeal to the good old days.

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Or in the heart of Arizona. With a panoramic indictment of The Donald, The Arizona Republic endorsed Clinton on Wednesday, Sept. 28, backing a Democratic candidate for the presidency for the first time in 126 years.

“[T]he 2016 Republican candidate is not conservative and he is not qualified,” The Republic editorial board concluded. “... The challenges the United States faces domestically and internationally demand a steady hand, a cool head, and the ability to think carefully before acting. Hillary Clinton understands this. Donald Trump does not. Clinton has the temperament and experience to be president. Donald Trump does not.”

“As secretary of state, Clinton made gender equality a priority for U.S. foreign policy. This is an extension of Clinton’s bold ‘women’s rights are human rights’ speech in 1995. It reflects an understanding that America’s commitment to human rights is a critically needed beacon in today’s troubled world.”

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THE REPUBLIC continued: “Trump’s long history of objectifying women and his demeaning comments about women during the campaign are not just good-old-boy gaffes. They are evidence of deep character flaws. They are part of a pattern.” ...

“We understand that Trump’s candidacy tapped a deep discontent among those who feel left behind by a changed economy and shifting demographics. Their concerns deserve to be discussed with respect.

“Ironically, Trump hasn’t done that. He has merely pandered. Instead of offering solutions, he hangs scapegoats like piñatas and invites people to take a swing.

“In a nation with an increasingly diverse population, Trump offers a recipe for permanent civil discord.

“In a global economy, he offers protectionism and a false promise to bring back jobs that no longer exist.

“America needs to look ahead and build a new era of prosperity for the working class. This is Hillary Clinton’s opportunity. She can reach out to those who feel left behind. She can make it clear that America sees them and will address their concerns. She can move us beyond rancor and incivility.”

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It’s way too soon to tell if any of this will have any long-term traction — the term “long-term” being relative as hell when the election is 40 days out. Newspaper editorials do have a debatable impact on what voters will actually do at the polls, though it's certainly more than the worthlessness many people attach to them.

Much of the time, newspaper editorials seem to be as much about the publication building and maintaining a financial relationship with the reader as about anything political. But when political values are shared organically by both newspaper and readers, it can create an indelible bond.

One part of that multi-generational bond is inseparable from the other. For decades, the relationships between the Dallas Morning News, the Arizona Republic and the Republican Party — and by extension the states’ Republican voters — have been hand in glove. You don’t lock down generations of subscriber support without that bond in place.

If there wasn’t a mutual benefit to these endorsements, after all these years, the papers and the party might have parted ways years ago. The fact that they’re doing so now, in this election, underscores how much damage Trump’s done to the Republican brand in the last sixteen months.

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IN THE overall, in the 24/7 noise of the culture, this year’s crop of newspaper editorials aren’t that big a damn deal; many are just a leading indicator of how deeply the GOP has managed to poison its own well.

Even long-time practitioners of the Republican brand, the deepest part of a deep-red base — the old media predisposed, both historically and now, to support Republican values and identity — want nothing to do with the brand, or its brand spokesman, this time out.

It’s anyone’s guess whether this affects voters in Ohio, Texas and Arizona, three historically-contested states that Democrats would love to nail down on Election Day. But endorsements like these — not just ringing but tintinnabulating — certainly can’t hurt the Clinton campaign rounding third base, in the drive for 270.

Image credits: Clinton: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA.  Logos and nameplates of media organizations property of their respective parents.

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