Update on the Endorsement Primary

Michael Vadon/Wikimedia Commons

Not being a political scientist, and thus not being required to subscribe to the widely-held academic belief that elite endorsements are the best indicator of success in a presidential nominating contest, I haven’t been breathlessly updating the lists of home-state electeds and House backbenchers signing on with this or that lucky candidate. But FiveThirtyEight is maintaining a point rating system for endorsements (limited to governors and Members of Congress, BTW, and thus excluding the state party chairs and RNC types that most political scientists consider members of the “party elites”), and it’s worth noting that not a lot has changed lately.

HRC continues to dominate “the endorsement primary” on the Democratic side like Babe Ruth would dominate a Babe Ruth League. She has 373 endorsement “points;” Bernie Sanders has 2 and Martin O’Malley has 1. Though some people seem to assume an equivalence between HRC and Jeb Bush in elite support in their respective parties, Jeb has a grand total of 36 endorsement points, about 91% less than HRC. He remains in first place among GOP candidates, with Chris Christie second at 25 points and Mike Huckabee with 24; suffice it to say that this does not remotely represent the order of candidates in early voter preferences (which political scientists tend to say matters zilch-o, particularly at this stage). But the best characterization of Republican elected official elite positioning right now is that these people are sitting on their hands.

It’s interesting that the current smart-money Establishment favorite for the nomination, Marco Rubio, has been endorsed by a scattered eight House members, including just one from his home state of Florida (Jeb has eleven House members from the Sunshine State). This reinforces an anomaly that the New York Times‘ Ross Douthat wrote about this weekend:

Rubio is a very strange sort of front-runner. He has never led a national poll. He is not cleaning up endorsements, nor raking in the cash: His recent fund-raising totals were weak given his seemingly-enviable position. Nobody seems impressed with his early state organization. He’s earned a round of favorable coverage after each debate without making much progress overall.

It’s also easier to imagine him winning a national primary than it is to figure out which early state he’ll win: He’s a little too moderate for Iowa, a little too conservative for New Hampshire, perhaps not quite combative enough for South Carolina … and so he might end up in the Rudy Giuliani-esque position of banking on his native Florida.

So neither the early “elite” favorite, Jeb Bush, nor his possible successor, Marco Rubio is yet posting the sort of objective indicia of success you’d expect going into the voting phase of the nomination contest–among voters or among elected officials. They both needs some “winnowing” of rivals to occur, along with a rapid shrinkage of support for Trump and Carson. There’s still plenty of time for that to happen, but it remains a matter mostly of conjecture–and blind faith.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.