Endorsements: A Political Paradox

Feb 2, 2012

Now that the Florida primary is over, we’re bound to see increasing media attention on Michigan. We’re the next big state to hold a primary election, though not till the end of the month.

Native son Mitt Romney is heavily favored, but the fact that Newt Gingrich badly needs a win somewhere means we may see a fair amount of campaigning here.

It’s also possible that this will turn into a battle not about winning, but about beating the expectations game. For example, if Newt were to finish a strong second in a state supposedly solidly for Romney that might be seen as a victory even if he technically lost.

Remember, in politics, appearance is often much more important than reality. If you doubt that, ask how come so many candidates have already dropped out when something like ninety-five percent of the delegates haven’t yet been chosen?

There’s another odd thing about this election, one that none of the politicians are going to talk about, so I will.

Governor Rick Snyder is said to be getting close to endorsing a candidate for president. His choice is almost certain to be Mitt Romney, who is now the clear national front-runner, and who helped Snyder out when he was running for governor two years ago.

Political endorsements are funny things. I have never met any voter who said, “Well, so-and-so endorsed Joe Blow for president, so I guess I’ll vote for him.”

What endorsements really do is curry favor with the candidate, and maybe, help create momentum and a sense of inevitability.

But here’s a secret. Let’s say Snyder does endorse Romney. I’m sure he will be sincere. But the nasty little truth is this. As far as their own fortunes are concerned, Snyder, and every Republican governor, senator and congressman running for election next year, would be better off if President Obama is reelected.

Why am I saying that? The answer is simple -- and has nothing to do with issues or ideology. Almost every time there is an off-year election in the sixth year of a presidency, the President’s party loses badly.

What seems to happen is that voters get tired of the crowd that has been running things, and blame that party. George W. Bush’s Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress six years ago. We now tend to think of Ronald Reagan as being universally popular, but Republicans lost control of the senate in his sixth year. Much the same holds true all the way back to Lyndon Johnson, Eisenhower, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The only exception was Bill Clinton, but he was already so far down in his sixth year there was sort of a backlash. On the other hand, there’s also often somewhat of a backlash against new presidents in their first off-year elections. Two years into any presidency, the honeymoon has worn off, as the public learns they can’t really walk on water and solve all our problems overnight. Remember how badly the Democrats did two years into President Obama’s term? Reagan was far more popular. But Republicans lost twenty-six seats in the house in his first off-year election. None of this means Snyder will secretly be rooting for Obama. But in terms of sheer self-interest…

Maybe he should.