Since 2008, when Chris Cillizza published his essential “endorsement hierarchy,” the political cognoscenti have become even more cynical about the efficacy of endorsements. Yet, as Cillizza instructed us back then, not all endorsements are created equal. At least some of them do matter. Still. Even in 2016.
So which ones have been the most important this cycle? I would say that Iowa Rep. Steve King ‘s endorsement of Ted Cruz in Iowa (coupled with other local conservatives) certainly had an impact. Donald Trump, no doubt, benefited from the support of Jerry Falwell, Jr., too.
Whereas Sarah Palin’s Trump endorsement was probably more about generating buzz and dealing a psychological blow to Ted Cruz, one gets the sense that there was a real strategic importance attached to Falwell’s support of Trump in a state where Evangelicals dominate (even if Falwell’s backing didn’t ultimately push him over the top in Iowa).
And now, I think South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott ‘s support of Marco Rubio has the potential to matter. In a sense, Scott checks off several boxes. He is generally considered to be a solid conservative, he obviously hails from an important early state, and he embodies the same narrative as Rubio–more evidence that someone born into a humble family can still achieve the American Dream.
Of course, part of the way you can tell if an endorsement matters is how much the campaign touts the backing. Team Rubio has made it clear this matters:
Again, gatekeepers are less important than ever, and political capital isn’t always transferable.
But if we’re willing to concede that some endorsements still do matter, this is likely one area where Marco Rubio has an advantage.
In this “outsider” milieu where people want a “fighter,” being perceived as likable and friendly can be a negative. But while Ted Cruz has alienated many of his colleagues, Rubio continues to win the backing of his. And it’s not just Sen. Scott. In the last day, or so, Sen. Pat Toomey and former Sen. Rick Santorum have backed Rubio.
Admittedly, these endorsements don’t all rank high on Cillizza’s endorsement hierarchy. But one gets the sense that this could be just a harbinger of things to come. If Rubio can do well enough in New Hampshire to get the “establishment” lane to finally coalesce around him, we might start seeing some big endorsements in key states come rapidly.
Sometimes endorsements matter.
UPDATE: Minutes after posting this, another important Rubio endorsement came in…
— Dan Nowicki (@dannowicki) February 4, 2016