‘Big news’ in our silly system: A newspaper endorses Chris Christie

REUTERS/Brian C. Frank
Supporters of Gov. Chris Christie hold a cutout at the Growth and Opportunity Party at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa.

As regular readers of this space have figured out, your humble and obedient ink-stained wretch views the U.S. system of politics and government as sub-optimal. There’s no perfect system, but as the years go by I am frequently struck by the bugs in ours.

One of those bugs that is currently front and center is the absurd extra influence that our system, as evolved, awards to two small, atypical states — Iowa and New Hampshire — because of the silly quirk that makes them the first two caucus/primary states.

This has nothing to do with the Framers of the Constitution nor even any laws passed by our benighted Congress. It could, and should, be changed so that the honor of going first rotates, or that a group of states goes first, so that the impact of the quirkiness of any one state is diminished. But apparently it will not be. And so the national political media are abuzz with the big news that the Manchester, N.H.-based Union Leader newspaper has endorsed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for president.

We are told this is influential. Fivethirtyeight.com supplies a chart showing that many past endorsees may have gained some support in the New Hampshire primary after being Union Leader-endorsed, although I note from the list that very few of them were ultimately nominated, only one of them (Ronald Reagan) became president, and many of the endorsees also lost the New Hampshire primary.

The endorsement editorial is here. Just seven paragraphs, it makes no mention of any policy position Christie has taken, nor any concrete accomplishments. The Union Leader, speaking in the traditional (also silly) first-person plural of editorial voices, expresses admiration for Christie’s blunt style, but seems to base its decision mostly on Christie’s resume, which features experience as both a governor and a U.S. attorney.

Because of the great respect given to this endorsement process, the paper’s publisher Joe McQuaid was invited on “Meet the Press” Sunday to talk about how the paper came to endorse Christie. The transcript is here. McQuaid said that he and “my editorial writer and some people that I respect in the community” decided to consider only governors for the endorsement, which apparently was a slap at Barack Obama, who came to the presidency without prior experience in an executive office, but which also had the effect of ruling out most of the current field. So the remaining candidates for the endorsement were only Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich.

Basically, I was amazed at the lack of rationale McQuaid was able to supply for the endorsement and the fact that the “Meet the Press” gave it so much respect.

The most recent poll I could find for the New Hampshire primary (a week old, from the Boston Globe) had Christie in seventh place with 5.3 percent.

By the way, the Union Leader had a daily circulation of 45,000 and a Sunday circulation of 64,000 in 2011. I can’t find a more recent number than that.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Jim Million on 11/30/2015 - 05:46 pm.

    That’s the Fun

    It’s not all about major machine mischief. Sometimes it’s the minor league managers who keep the spirit of choice alive, if not ambulatory. [A hat tip to our St. Paul Saints for that, as well.]

    Besides, Eric virtually endorsed Bernie Sanders the other morning in an unusually open and well-followed testament. We should know where those of influence stand (columnists and others of lesser importance included), so that we need not decipher their motives .

    Everyone, mostly in the press, is seemingly far too serious far too soon. Since most of us do not depend on these games for income, let’s have a little fun with alternate views, at least until we should probably get serious next summer after the conventions. Given constant and pretty reliable polling, do primaries really matter these days? Beware those who have seized crank shafts in the brain, and enjoy those who sometimes turn off the engine for a little free wheeling (as did Eric).

    Those of us who prefer honest ideas to propaganda do appreciate these low-polling pols who stay in races mainly to tell us what they really think. They have little to lose, except more money spent for that privilege. Sometimes they make unguarded good points.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/01/2015 - 08:35 am.

    I know!

    I read the “headline”, went to find the “influential” paper and burst out laughing. My asks what’s so funny? I say: “this paper no one’s heard of has endorsed Christi and it’s being treated like “news”.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/01/2015 - 10:54 am.

      Yeah, but . . .

      The Union-Leader has a lot of influence in New Hampshire, and New Hampshire has a disproportionate influence on the political process. There is something of a ripple effect at work here.

      Not to mention the media’s desperate search for a palatable, credible Republican candidate. Christie seems the best they can do for now.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/04/2015 - 03:29 pm.

        Influence?

        Nobody votes the way a newspaper tells them to vote, and they never did. Back in the days when papers were papers and men were men endorsements were bald faced adverts for candidates aligned with a paper’s ideology. Since the 50’s they’ve become stuff people read while eating popcorn, and little more.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/01/2015 - 10:07 am.

    The interview

    Something to keep in mind here is that McQuaid didn’t answer questions that weren’t asked. He did say that he preferred governors, but he didn’t expand on that, at least immediately, because Todd didn’t follow up. It’s not often the case that TV interviewers ask follow up questions, and the interview subjects can’t be blamed for that.

    In these brief interviews, it’s very rare that we get much of an insight into anyone’s thinking, and that really isn’t the fault of anyone. There just isn’t much time and much format inclination to go into much depth. Maybe if McQuaid could somehow swing an invitation to James Lipton’s show we could learn a little more.

    In olden times, the Union Leader’s endorsement had impact because it was followed up by incredibly lengthy, brutal and unfair treatment by the paper of those who didn’t get it. That was back in the day of William Loeb. I, quite frankly, don’t know if the Union Leader still does that. If it doesn’t, I doubt if it’s endorsement has any more influence than any other news organization’s which is to say, virtually none.

    • Submitted by Hal Davis on 12/01/2015 - 11:47 am.

      The Union Leader

      CHARLES STILE, a columnist for the North Jersey Record, wrote:

      The above-the-fold blessing — which took pains to cast Christie as a bona fide conservative three times — doesn’t guarantee a path to victory. Since 1980, the Union Leader has endorsed only three GOP candidates who went on to win the primary. But its backing of U.S. Sen. John McCain in the 2008 race gave his struggling campaign a boost he desperately needed.

      And this is not expected to be just a one-time expression of the newspaper’s enthusiasm. If history is any guide, the endorsement signals the start of a 10-week crusade for Christie, promoting him in glowing terms while pounding his primary opponents with scalding, vitriolic editorials and political cartoons. The Union Leader has been a practitioner of what historian and author Theodore H. White called the “knife and kill” style of aggressive, advocacy journalism.

      “Joe McQuaid once said, ‘We don’t endorse once, we endorse every damn day,’” said Fergus Cullen, a former New Hampshire Republican Party chairman. “They will bash other candidates on his behalf. This is not a one-off.”

      The paper began brandishing that biting style after William Loeb III purchased it in the 1940s.
      =============

      More at
      http://www.northjersey.com/news/stile-endorsement-of-christie-could-net-a-second-look-from-conservatives-1.1465009

  4. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 12/01/2015 - 11:19 am.

    OK – lets beat up on the Media

    What is even more entertaining is when the Star- Tribune and other “newspapers” including MinnPost run “puff pieces” on their favorite politicians leading up the election.

    I think the Amy K. articles are just recycled from one media outlet to other media outlets every 6 years.

    Next thing you know the Mayor of Duluth will be running for State wide office in light of his recent MinnPost reviews.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 12/07/2015 - 05:35 am.

      Chuckling

      Almost laughed in agreement here. Somewhat like reading GQ for political analysis. MinnPost should expand The Glean with more/varied cyber clippings.

  5. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 12/01/2015 - 12:21 pm.

    State control

    The problem of two small states getting so much influence every presidential election comes from the same source as so many flaws in our election systems, state control. It’s the same problem behind restrictions on voting rights, multitudinous balloting procedures, and no one knowing how a recount will work when an election is tied. It’s not just state control, but also that many states give a lot of control to local authorities so there are an enormous number of varying procedures.

    Specifically regarding presidential nominations, state control of elections means each state gets to decide when to hold its caucuses or primary, so if someone else decided to go first, Iowa and New Hampshire would automatically move theirs earlier under their own laws. That works because New Hampshire ignores caucus states like Iowa and just mandates that it have the first primary, but what if some third state wanted to go early and passed the same sort of law? We’d have a cascade where the only logical conclusion is the first caucus or primary would be the day after the law is passed, whenever that was. Yes, it’s that nuts. The parties try to enforce a schedule by penalizing the offending state with a loss of delegates, but in an era where the nomination is settled long before the convention, who really cares about losing delegates?

    So the only solution is to federalize elections to allow for standardization.

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/01/2015 - 01:18 pm.

    The system

    Our current system is incredibly flawed. As things stand now, the votes in only a few states matter, mainly populous swing states like Ohio and Florida. In most of the rest of the country, in the last months before the elections, the presidential campaigns barely exist. Since the media has a bias towards covering things that happen, as opposed to things that don’t, the non happening of presidential campaigns throughout the country isn’t widely known or understood.

    When I talk to voters in Minnesota, and believe me, I talk to a lot of them, this is quite a remarkable phenomenon. Many voters tell me that they only vote in presidential campaigns, I smile politely, move on, and always resist the temptation of telling them that as Minnesota voters, with respect to the presidential campaign, their vote is meaningless.

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