Over the last several years, I have debated the importance of political endorsements with various activists. Some people argue that endorsements don’t really matter, that they are a mere formality that are doled out without much thought or value. I disagree.
Endorsements, in my mind, are a strong signal of support, giving a stamp of a approval to a candidate or politician, more or less telling voters and like-minded activists that if you support me you should also support this person that I am endorsing. Do endorsements make or break campaigns? Typically not. But they do say as much about the candidate as they do about the person or group offering the endorsement.
Let me offer some examples. After Senator John McCain bested Representative Ron Paul in the 2008 Republican presidential primary, did Paul endorse McCain in the general election? No. The simple reason for it was that Paul and McCain espoused radically different principles. While Paul supported the ideas of reducing the size and scope of the federal government and a non-interventionist foreign policy, McCain did not. The fact that they were both members of the Republican Party was irrelevant. In fact, Ron Paul went on to endorse Chuck Baldwin, the Constitution Party candidate in that election. This scenario repeated in 2012 when Dr. Paul declined to endorse Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney for the same reason. Now, would those of us in the liberty movement have thought considerably less of Dr. Paul if he had endorsed McCain and Romney? I would think so, because he would be sending a signal that at the end of the day party unity trumps political principles.
Although I obviously wasn’t going to support him given that I was running for the same office, I thought it was impressive that Democratic candidate Alleyn Harned received the endorsement of both Senator Mark Warner and Senator Tim Kaine. If I supported the positions of either of these senators, this news certainly would have made an impact on my decisions.
Conversely, endorsements can be negative too. As one example, when Barbara Comstock ran for the Republican nod in the 10th congressional district, some of her listed endorsers, such as John Bolton, Mitt Romney, and Eric Cantor caused considerable concern. After all, if she was promoted by the nonconservative establishment, chances are she wouldn’t be a particularly conservative legislator when she arrived in Washington D.C. Unfortunately, her time in Congress thus far have proven these fears to be correct.
And then there is the curious issue of Senator Mark Obenshain. Although I endorsed and strongly supported his run for attorney general in 2013 and he bills himself as a pro-liberty conservative, I was shocked and profoundly disappointed when he urged his supporters to rally behind “local conservatives” by endorsing the establishment Republican candidates for Harrisonburg City Council in the 2014 elections as opposed to actual conservatives who didn’t bear the Republican label. Unfortunately, in a reverse situation of Paul, principles took a back seat to party loyalty.
Anyway, the reason I wrote this piece in the first place concerns the presidential candidacy of Rand Paul in 2016. Unlike his father, the younger Dr. Paul did endorse Mitt Romney in 2012. Two years later, he endorsed Mitch McConnell over his conservative challenger. Now, that’s not to say that Rand Paul hasn’t endorsed good, principled candidates as well, but, along with other matters, such as his support of Senator Cotton’s letter to Iran, it certainly should give liberty-minded activists cause for considerable concern.
Endorsements are not like Halloween candy to be given out freely to every person who shows up at your doorstep, but rather a carefully crafted decision to be rationed out only to those who you believe closely mirror your own values. That is why I have publicly endorsed only one candidate, Nick Freitas, in the 2015 election cycle so far.
Although endorsements certainly aren’t the end all be all, and, given enough time everyone is prone to make an error from time to time, they are important as a helpful guide for both the endorser and endorsee to show who might be worth a closer look, who will be a constant advocate for liberty, or who might be selling out his or her principles for political gain.
The bottom line is that endorsements matter.