An endorsement resembles a recommendation: This guy is a lot like me. If you trust me, you can trust her. I can support this candidate, so can you. Whom a candidate endorses tells us a lot about the candidate themselves.
But in the bizarre world of presidential politics, it may also mean giving favors in hopes of getting an endorsement in return. The idea is simple. I’ll support you and if you win, I would expect that you will support me in your state when I am running for president. Of course, nobody ever states it like that. And there are no guarantees. Sometimes the endorsee never becomes the endorser. Perhaps it was given in good faith after all.
But one cannot deny that the whole process can get ugly. The best recent historical example was when Al Gore refused to endorse his 2000 vice-presidential running mate, Joe Lieberman, when the latter ran for president in 2004. Gore instead announced on TV his endorsement of rival northeasterner, Vermont Governor Howard Dean. Ouch!
In high-profile elections, public pressure can push candidates to make endorsements. Sarah Palin endorsed an independent in the NY-23 House Race, Doug Hoffman, while Newt Gingrich endorsed his liberal Republican opponent, Dede Scozzafava. Meanwhile, pressure was put on Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee to endorse Hoffman. Romney kicked the can down the road, while Huckabee finally endorsed the weekend before the election, and only after Scozzafava dropped out. Bill Owens, the Democrat won. It’s doubtful these endorsements will affect anybody, except possibly Gingrich. He must explain why he endorsed a liberal. In the era of the Tea Party Movement, arguing for being a “party first” guy probably won’t help the former House Speaker much. Otherwise, most people will forget who endorsed whom in this one.
Sarah Palin announces many of her endorsements on her Facebook page. Some Palin supporters were not happy with her support of former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad in his bid for another bite at the apple. The Tea-Party favorite was Bob Vander Plaatz. But Branstad won the GOP nomination and so it is doubtful it will hurt her in the long run. On the other hand, if he becomes governor, that could help her, as well.
Huckabee, on the other hand, supports many state-wide and local office candidates. In addtion, he was the first of the Big Three to announce support of Marco Rubio in Florida.
One that could haunt Huckabee most is his endorsement and last minute campaigning for South Carolina governor candidate, Andre Bauer. The eventual winner was Nikki Haley (endorsed by Romney and Palin). Bauer was seen by some as contributing to specious rumors about Haley but Huckabee stuck with Bauer, nonetheless. South Carolina will likely be a key state and it is possible other candidates will exploit Huckabee’s endorsement of Bauer.
Romney is easily the biggest fan of endorsements, and he shows his support by handing out tons of money, too. At last count, he had endorsed US House, US Senate, and Governor candidates in at least 28 states. The biggest gambles have been by Mitt Romney. He has endorsed two candidates who are pro-abortion. Each endorsement has its own drawbacks. In the first one, Romney supported Maryland Governor candidate, Bob Ehrlich, over pro-life alternative Brian Murphy. The second case, where Romney chose to endorse Meg Whitman for governor of California, is much higher profile. The former CEO of Ebay does not need Romney’s money. And more importantly, Whitman not only supports the “right” to kill one’s own offspring, she also thinks Californians ought to pay for it, because, since it’s a right, no one should be denied one because of lack of money. (I wonder if she supports the 2nd amendment by handing out money for everybody to buy guns.)
It has been a struggle for Romney to convince many pro-life voters that his late conversion to the pro-life position was sincere. It might now be a virtual impossibility. After endorsing Whitman, what can Romney say? If he argues that California is a liberal state he has given strong evidence that he cannot be counted on to nominate only pro-life Justices to the Supreme Court. Resistance by 41 Democrats to his nominees would almost guarantee that he would nominate pro-death Justices instead. A claim of personal friendship with Whitman won’t help either.
Voters are not stupid. And interest groups, like pro-lifers, aren’t forgetful. The whole ordeal reinforces my original thesis: Endorsements tell more about the candidate doing the endorsing than the candidate being endorsed. Ultimately, it may not be about picking winners and losers, but rather how you played the game in 2010 that counts in 2012.