Trump minimizes impact of party primary endorsements

Bailey Ethier

In presidential primaries, endorsements have consistently been one of, if not the most accurate, ways to predict the eventual nominee, so what’s occurring this primary season is unheard of.

Going back to at least 1980, both the Republican and Democratic candidates that have the most “endorsement points” — calculated by FiveThirtyEight as 10 points for a governor endorsement, five points for a senator and one for a representative — has gone on to win the primary.

So if you were to look at points this election cycle, you’d think Marco Rubio would be running away with the nomination. Rubio has 157 points, compared to Ted Cruz’s 34 points and John Kasich’s 31. To put this in perspective, Rubio’s endorsement points are on par with John McCain’s at this point in the race back in 2008. In spite of this, Rubio trails a candidate he leads by 128 endorsement points in both national polls and the delegate count.

Donald Trump, the GOP front-runner, didn’t receive his first endorsement points until Feb. 24 when Representatives Chris Collins of New York and Duncan Hunter of California publicly backed Trump. Since then, Trump has bumped his endorsement point count to 29 after securing, among others, former presidential candidate and current New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s endorsement.

FiveThirtyEight’s endorsement points only factor in endorsements from sitting governors, senators and representatives, but something tells me Trump’s endorsements by Gary Busey, Tila Tequila and Kid Rock haven’t done much to sway voters.

In past presidential primary races, elites have served as gatekeepers of sorts, only allowing candidates to gain support and attention by endorsing them; in 2012, endorsements allowed Mitt Romney to pull away and capture the GOP nomination.

But Trump has bypassed these gatekeepers by obtaining media coverage through the sheer ridiculousness of his campaign, making endorsements almost meaningless.

As UT government professor Bruce Buchanan said, Trump is “taking up all the oxygen” and diverting attention away from other candidates and towards himself.

“The average voter might look to the elite in the party like the governor, or the senator or the representative in cases where the selection is not known, or the [candidate] doesn’t feel very familiar and thus would look to elites for guidance,” Buchanan said. “A case like Trump is different because everybody feels like they know basically who he is, what he represents.”

This isn’t to say that endorsements are totally worthless. Marco Rubio’s poll numbers in South Carolina were at about 16 percent before receiving the endorsement of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and he finished with 22.5 percent of the vote. 

But it seems too late for endorsements, or anything, to trump Trump. 

Since 1988, every candidate who has won the most states on Super Tuesday has gone on to capture their party’s nomination, and Trump  did just that in seven of 11 states by press time,  pending Alaska’s late night results.

So the GOP can endorse whomever they want, but it won’t matter, because Trump is on his way towards capturing the party’s nomination — for better or worse.

Ethier is a journalism freshman from Westport, Connecticut. Follow him on Twitter @baileyethier.