Biden the clear choice (say newspaper editorials)

In race with few undecideds, endorsement impact probably limited

THE VERDICT IS in: Joe Biden is the clear choice for president. 

So, at least, say the editorial pages today of the New York Times  and Boston Globe. Add in the recent Biden backing from the Washington Post and the Democratic nominee has hit the trifecta among the three biggest editorial voices along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, the southern stretch of which he knows so well. 

Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic governor of Illinois who twice lost races for president to Dwight Eisenhower, was famously said to have been offered encouragement by a woman at a stop during the 1952 race. “Every thinking person in America will be voting for you,” she exclaimed, presumably trying to boost his spirits with word that his election was all but assured. “I’m afraid that won’t do — I need a majority,” Stevenson replied. 

Something similar could be said of newspaper endorsements. Beyond the three leading purveyors of East Coast liberalism that have now weighed in, editorial boards across the country will have their say, with an overwhelming endorsement tilt to Biden. He continues to hold a lead in polling, but it’s not clear that any of the cries from editorial boards will necessarily shift any votes. If anything, the place where newspaper endorsements might make the biggest difference is at the far other end of the ballot — in races for low-level offices that voters have not paid much attention to. 

News yesterday of the Times endorsement was met with a reminder of the paper going 0 for 2 with its unusual dual endorsement of two candidates in the Democratic presidential primaries. “Well that should do it said presidents Warren and Klobuchar,” tweeted MassINC Polling Group president Steve Koczela, recalling the two women US senators who “shared” the Times endorsement during the primaries — and saw their campaigns fade into the sunset. 

The Globe punted on making an endorsement in the usually pivotal New Hampshire primary, but then endorsed Warren in primaries that followed. 

In today’s Biden endorsement the Globe says that President Trump, from his shredding of decades-long alliances to sowing racial division and mishandling the pandemic, has been a disastrous leader from start to what the paper hopes will soon be finish. And the editorial makes clear that Biden can be thought of as a transformational figure only insofar as he would bring the country and the presidency back to some semblance of normal. The paper also acknowledges something that might make Biden unique in the annals of the country’s presidency: a candidate seeking the White House with no plan, should he be elected, to run for a second term. 

“The Globe is proud to endorse Biden, a candidate who has the potential to restore not just common decency and civility to the Oval Office, but also a proper sense of the president’s role,” says the editorial. ”The fact that Biden is not an ideological firebrand, and is thought unlikely to pursue reelection in 2024 if he wins this November, augurs well for the central challenge that will confront the next president: how to repair the damage from Trump’s four years.”

The Times, too, zeros in on the most elemental arguments for the former vice president and longtime Delaware senator. 

“In the midst of unrelenting chaos, Mr. Biden is offering an anxious, exhausted nation something beyond policy or ideology. His campaign is rooted in steadiness, experience, compassion and decency,” says its endorsement.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

To its credit, the Globe takes an interesting new tack in augmenting its main Biden endorsement with a series of 12 short arguments targeting specific voters. They include arguments tailored to “The Former Trump Voter” and “The Religious Voter.” The paper also makes a plea to those who lean more left, “The Social Justice Voter” and the “Progressive Voter,” to not make the perfect the enemy of the clearly preferable. 

Of course, even successful persuasion won’t really matter in Massachusetts, where Biden may well eclipse Hillary Clinton’s 2-to-1 drubbing of Trump in 2016. That makes the targeted argument at “The New Hampshire Voter” — which hits on the swing state’s large senior population and veterans issues — the one Globe mini editorial that might be said to matter in the electoral vote map. 

That is, if newspaper presidential endorsements really matter much at all.