The Endorsement Racket

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Begala

So Trump's placed his chips on Mitt, and Cain's gone for Newt. But will it change a single vote?

We can all go home now. No more need for primaries or caucuses or voting. The Donald has decided the election for us. America's favorite reality-TV host and real-estate billionaire has endorsed Mitt Romney for president. Look for Trump to inspire a massive surge for Romney in the polls, a huge infusion of campaign cash, and an unstoppable drive to the nomination this summer in Tampa.

Or not.

Endorsements are the fool's gold of presidential politics. Those who chase them are wasting their time. Here's why: the more information voters have a about a race, and the more they care about a campaign, the less likely they are to be swayed by an endorsement. Conversely, when we don't know much about a race, and perhaps don't even care very much about the office, a trusted endorsement may be all we need. For years--until we lost her at age 96--my neighbor LaVerne Taylor was my guide to local races. I was working in the White House, helping run presidential campaigns. But LaVerne had been in local politics since Eisenhower was a colonel. I knew her and trusted her. So when it came to county supervisor, the only question I had was, "Who is LaVerne for?" If you won the LaVerne primary, you won my vote.

But Donald Trump is no LaVerne Taylor, and the presidency is not the Dranesville district supervisor. So I suspect most voters will ignore Trump's advice and make up their own minds, thank you very much.

Still, endorsements can give voters some cues as to how the tribe is dividing. Mitt Romney has the endorsements of former president George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, and John McCain--three of the last four GOP presidential nominees. I'm starting to think he might be the candidate of the establishment. Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, has been endorsed by Michael Reagan, Todd Palin (and kinda, sorta Sarah), Herman Cain, and Rick Perry. Somehow the insurgent wing of the GOP has decided that its populist champion will be the guy with a million-dollar credit line at Tiffany.

Celebrities always take a risk when they endorse a politician--and so, even when they endorse someone I oppose, I admire them for taking a stand. Too many others are too timid. In 1990, when the courageous Harvey Gantt, the Charlotte, N. …