Trump Endorsed Mitt, and Cain Chose Newt, But Does It Matter?

Donald Trump endorses Mitt Romney. Ethan Miller/ Getty Images

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.C., mayor who was the first African-American to attend Clemson, was running against the notorious Jesse Helms, the most famous Tar Heel of them all, Michael Jordan, refused to publicly endorse Gantt. “Republicans buy shoes too,” he said. Real profile in courage, Mike.

And so I think it’s great that American Idol Kelly Clarkson has the guts to endorse Ron Paul for president. I love it that Snoop Dogg, the Wizard of Weed, also endorses the libertarian-leaning Paul. And even though I was a Hillary supporter in the 2008 primaries, I saluted Oprah Winfrey’s courage in standing up and endorsing Barack Obama.

But with all respect to Ms. Clarkson, whose music I’ve never heard, and Mr. Dogg, whose lyrics I can’t understand, their endorsements aren’t going to affect my vote—or yours. Some endorsements can reinforce a preexisting image and are to be avoided. Mitt Romney, who infamously strapped his dog to the roof of his car, probably wouldn’t want an endorsement from Michael Vick. Barack Obama probably doesn’t want the endorsement of the Socialist Party USA.

Newspaper endorsements carry no more weight than those handed out by pop stars. The Des Moines Register endorsed Mitt Romney. He lost narrowly to Rick Santorum (who’s been endorsed by hardly anyone—except the voters of Iowa). The mighty New Hampshire Union Leader endorsed Newt Gingrich, who finished a weak fourth there with less than 10 percent of the vote. And The State, the biggest newspaper in South Carolina, endorsed Jon Huntsman, who dropped out of the race before the South Carolina primary. Still, the power of the endorsement garnered Huntsman 1,161 votes, which is just 1,161 more than my Aunt Marian got.

There are exceptions, of course. An endorsement can matter when it’s counterintuitive, as when Republican Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama. Powell was and remains one of the most respected people in the world, and his decision to reach across the aisle and endorse a Democrat carried weight. The same would be true for a hypothetical Charlie Sheen endorsement of Mitt Romney, which just might add some spice to a candidate about as bland as a mayonnaise sandwich on white bread.

But the real-life endorsements by Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman? Romney knew they were so inconsequential that he didn’t even bother showing up at the press conferences to receive them.