Why Endorsements Aren’t Mattering For The GOP In 2016

REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Alex Pfeiffer White House Correspondent

When it was published in 2008, the book “The Party Decides” received much acclaim as a go-to guide on how presidential nominees are chosen. However, its argument that endorsements are a sort of “invisible primary” that decide the nominee has seemingly been destroyed by Donald Trump’s success in the Republican 2016 race.

One of the authors of the book, Professor Martin Cohen of James Madison University, spoke to The Daily Caller Wednesday to explain why he doesn’t think this is the case and why a Bernie Sanders victory would be a much stronger rebuke to the book’s thesis.

“The best thing we could say is the party didn’t decide,” said Cohen. He added, “when they don’t decide, all bets are off. If the party is not deciding, then who’s deciding? The voters.”

One of the main premises of “The Party Decides” is the importance of endorsements in the “invisible primary,” the long lead up to contests in states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

In this invisible primary, party elites, elected officials and activists signal who they prefer through endorsements. Not only this but, “endorsements are usually a promise of campaign resources and a promise to apply a candidate’s or elected official’s electoral apparatus in favor of the candidate they have endorsed,” Cohen told TheDC.

A lack of cohesion during this time is what Cohen believes has helped lead to Trump’s success. “The party elite waited too long to take [Trump] on and his support congealed.”

[crscore]Marco Rubio[/crscore] got the support of well-liked South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley but failed to win the Palmetto State primary. Looking at this fact without context would lead one to believe endorsements are without value. However, according to Cohen, there are two factors at play that make this endorsement less valuable — timing and the mood of the electorate.

“Nikki Haley endorses Marco Rubio three days before the South Carolina primary, I mean how is she going to help him get votes in three days,” said Cohen. He continued to say, “three days in advance you’re hoping that her popularity translates to him immediately and that as we are seeing is not the case in this anti-establishment year.”

While Jeb Bush certainly seemed to have the most institutional support in the fall and had raised plenty of money, he still did not have a commanding lead in this “invisible primary.”

“The field was not winnowed as it usual is by the parties, the super PACs allowed candidates to remain in longer than they otherwise would have,” said Cohen to TheDC. Parties used to be able to more effectively trim the field of candidates by controlling campaign funds.

Since the field has narrowed, Cohen says, “The party has started to decide, and coalesce around Rubio but throughout the process there were still endorsements for Kasich — and for Bush — and other candidates.”

Could this stop Trump? “I think it is too late, I think it was too late once the voters started voting,” said the professor.

The Democratic Party in response to McGovern’s nomination decided the institute superdelegates before the 1984 election to make it more difficult for a grassroots candidate to get the nomination. Cohen disagrees with the notion that the GOP should incorporate a system such as this, and thinks the importance of the super delegates in the Democratic race has been overblown.

“The super delegates can change their mind and are not bound to a candidate. If Bernie Sanders were to get the delegate lead I would find it hard to believe that the super delegates by themselves would give to her,” he said.

Cohen continued to say, “The better option for the party would be to do a better job in the invisible primary of identifying a candidate they could get behind, a candidate who could really unite the party and be acceptable to a wide variety of party interests.”

The Democrats did a stronger job of doing this, with Clinton dwarfing Sanders when it comes to endorsements. “The party clearly decided on Hillary Clinton…if Bernie Sanders were to get the nomination, overtake her in the delegate count, that would be a much stronger rebuke of our thesis, the party decided and it didn’t work,” said Cohen.

Trump is now rallying for “the party to decide” and unite behind him. Cohen believes there is a sentiment in the party that would prefer a “President Hillary Clinton.” He said that some Republicans might be thinking, “if he loses in flaming defeat they can say he’s gone from the scene and the Republicans can try to re-establish themselves in the next campaign in 2020.”

According to Cohen, the GOP has to decide “whether they want Trump to be elected.” Whatever the party decides will be evident in the coming weeks.