NEW YORK ― The Arizona Republic’s editorial board didn’t struggle much with the decision to break with more than 120 years of tradition.
“In the end, it was an easy decision because of watching Donald Trump throughout this election,” said Nicole Carroll, the paper’s editor and vice president for news. Trump’s statements, actions, and “how he conducts himself,” she said, left the conservative editorial board “no choice but to endorse Hillary Clinton.”
Carroll stressed Wednesday that the paper’s endorsement of a Democratic nominee ― the first in its 126-year history ― was an affirmative recommendation of Clinton and not simply an anti-Trump stance. Indeed, editors touted Clinton’s “steady hand, a cool head and the ability to think carefully before acting.” Trump, they wrote, “is not conservative and he is not qualified.”
The Arizona Republic’s board is the latest in a string of conservative editorial boards who broke with precedent to back Clinton.
The Dallas Morning News endorsed Clinton earlier this month, making her the first Democratic nominee in more than 75 years to win the paper’s approval. “There is only one serious candidate on the presidential ballot in November,” the editors wrote. Last week, the Cincinnati Enquirer broke a nearly century-long streak. The paper, located in the critical swing state of Ohio, described Trump as “a clear and present danger to our country.”
The New Hampshire Union Leader and Richmond Times-Dispatch, which have endorsed Republicans for a century and more than three decades, respectively, chose Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. The Tulsa World, meanwhile, decided not to endorse anyone after more than 75 years supporting Republicans.
Trump struggled throughout the 2016 election to win over the more sober and intellectually rigorous columnists and commentators on the right. Most prominent conservative writers and pundits sided with Trump’s rivals during the Republican primary due to everything from his erratic temperament to racially insensitive views to his break with party orthodoxy. Some have continued waving the “Never Trump” banner into the general election.
During the primary race, Trump won only a couple significant newspaper endorsements. He received a lukewarm April endorsement from Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, which noted the candidate’s “amateurish, divisive” and “downright coarse” language. The New York Observer, a weekly paper owned by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, endorsed him days later. (Trump also won the support of the National Enquirer).
Those three publications will likely remain in Trump’s corner and it’s possible he’ll pick up a few other endorsements, such as the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. But Clinton will surely win the overwhelming majority of newspaper endorsements, not only because more lean left, but because it’s becoming clear many conservative boards won’t stand behind Trump.
Newspaper endorsements have arguably have less clout with each passing presidential cycle, especially as the media landscape becomes increasingly fragmented. And Trump was clearly successful in winning votes during the Republican primary without them, even as Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio racked up endorsements.
“Editorial boards do not pick presidents,” former top Rubio adviser Alex Conant told The Huffington Post. “At the most local level, they have a fair amount of influence. At the state level, they have some influence. At the presidential level, I think it’s minimal.”
Still, Conant said he believed some endorsements were beneficial in the primary. “For the Des Moines Register to endorse [Rubio], and say he was experienced enough to be president of the United States, was helpful,” he said. Whether or not the endorsement swayed Iowa voters, Conant said it “resulted in a lot of really good publicity at a point in the race where we needed all the good publicity we could get.”
Similarly, Conant suggested the trend of center-right editorial boards endorsing Clinton could bring positive coverage, even if it doesn’t necessarily translate to votes.
John Weaver, a top Kasich strategist, told HuffPost that winning all the important New Hampshire endorsements ― except the Union Leader ― and the nearby Boston Globe helped boost his candidate’s name recognition and visibility. Kasich finished second in the state’s primary.
Weaver doesn’t believe newspapers endorsements have the same sway as they did even four years ago ― and certainly not four decades back ― but he suggested support from Republican-backing newspapers may help Clinton in swing states.
“I believe those do matter,” he said, “especially in a tight race when there are thoughtful Republicans [and] particularly suburban, college-educated Republicans struggling with their choice.”