On September 28, The Washington Post officially endorsed Joe Biden for president. That may not come as a shock to anyone with a passing knowledge of the liberal newspaper, but the Post paints this year as unique and different. The unsigned editorial calls Trump the “worst president of modern times” and warns readers that “democracy is at stake.” An anyone-but-Trump anti-endorsement on August 21 lectured that “a second Trump term might injure the democratic experiment beyond recovery.”
Get it? You must vote for Biden because democracy itself is in danger. However, for the Washington Post, this year’s endorsement is exactly like every other. I tracked down and reviewed every Washington Post presidential endorsement since the paper began regularly picking candidates in 1976.
Here’s the box score: 11 endorsements of Democratic presidential candidates. 0 endorsements of Republican presidential candidates. 1 non-endorsement (in 1988).
The Democrats have exciting, “supple” (Barack Obama in 2008) candidates who inspire hope. In contrast, Republicans are reckless (John McCain in 2008) and bad on race (George H.W. Bush in 1992), to name a few of the paper’s concerns. While some Post endorsements were more enthusiastic than others, the conclusion is always the same: America MUST elect a Democrat president.
Sometimes, the Post will tell its readers not to be cynical. This isn’t a choice between the lesser of two evils, they say. The paper’s 2020 endorsement of Biden cheers: “Fortunately, to oust President Trump in 2020, voters do not have to lower their standards. The Democratic nominee, former vice president Joe Biden, is exceptionally well-qualified, by character and experience, to meet the daunting challenges that the nation will face over the coming four years.”
If that sounds familiar, it should. Turns out, Democrats had a great candidate in Hillary Clinton in 2016: “In the gloom and ugliness of this political season, one encouraging truth is often overlooked: There is a well-qualified, well-prepared candidate on the ballot. Hillary Clinton has the potential to be an excellent president of the United States, and we endorse her without hesitation.”
That language echoed through the decades. In 1984, the Post tried to dissuade Americans from reelecting Ronald Reagan, “enthusiastically and without apology” endorsing Walter Mondale: “He is a decent man and a diligent, hard-working one who has been a good Democratic leader…. We say this is a serious, steady, bright, decent, qualified man who wants to be president and who should be.”
Forty nine out of 50 states rejected the paper’s advice, reelecting Reagan in a landslide.
In an editorial on September 22, 2020, the Post called Trump a moral threat to the world, deriding “his degradation of truth as a common currency in public life.” That attitude didn’t stop the paper’s editorial writers from endorsing the morally compromised Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. Reflecting on the choice from four years prior, the Post writers in ‘96 practically giggled about their tone: “In 1992 we enthusiastically supported him; the newspaper from hope, you might have called us.”
In a post-Me-Too world, the Post’s two endorsements of Clinton make one cringe. The paper in ‘92 hammered George H.W. Bush’s “below the belt” attacks and lamented that the Democrat’s “character has been pummeled in the campaign.” By this point, Gennifer Flowers had come forward discussing her sexual encounter with Clinton. In 1994, Paula Jones already accused Bill Clinton of sexual harassment, including exposing himself to her.
In 1996, the paper reluctantly acknowledged the Democrat’s moral failing: “Mr. Clinton’s shortcomings are more evident and inescapable than they were four years ago.” But Democrats must be supported, so the Post concluded that “somewhere in that changeable figure, we believe, lies a capacity to be better at the job of the presidency than he has been…. On that uncertain basis, we choose Bill Clinton over Bob Dole.”
It goes without saying that the endorsement of Barack Obama over John McCain brimmed with excitement: “Mr. Obama is a man of supple intelligence, with a nuanced grasp of complex issues and evident skill at conciliation and consensus-building…. Obama has the potential to become a great president.”
In 2020, the Post used McCain’s friendship with Biden as a selling point. But in 2008, the paper’s editorial slammed the Arizona senator as reckless: “The choice is made easy in part by Mr. McCain’s disappointing campaign, above all his irresponsible selection of a running mate who is not ready to be president.”
In a November 2, 2012 story on the paper’s history of endorsements, Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt strained credulity to the breaking point when he insisted that the journalistic outlet’s concerns “do not align us evenly with one party or the other.”
But that’s simply not so. Whatever roller coaster ride each presidential election brings, readers can be certain of one thing: The Washington Post is an appendage of the Democratic Party and it will dutifully get behind the nominee. Theatrics about the end of democracy aside, 2020 is no different.
The paper put it most honestly when the editorial board endorsed Jimmy Carter over Ronald Reagan in 1980: “For much as we prize and insist upon our intellectual and political independence around here, no one who has read this paper over the years would have exactly figured Ronald Reagan for The Washington Post’s dream candidate.” How apt for Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump or any presidential candidate with an R next to his or her name. Because, to the Post, they all cause nightmares.
Scott Whitlock is the associate editor of the Media Research Center’s NewsBusters.org blog site.