The Atlantic magazine has made only two presidential endorsements in its 159-year history: one for Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and one for Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
The third comes Wednesday afternoon, when the magazine posted an editorial endorsing Hillary Clinton for president and dismissing Donald J. Trump as “the most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency.” For good measure, it calls him “a demagogue, a xenophobe, a sexist, a know-nothing and a liar.”
One day earlier, the Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter wrote, in his editor’s letter for the November issue, “Through word or action, Trump has promoted gun violence, bigotry, ignorance, intolerance, lying, and just about everything else that can be wrong with society.”
That came after USA Today made the first presidential endorsement in its history — or, more accurately, a “disendorsement,” as it came out against Mr. Trump (“unfit for the presidency”) but not for Hillary Clinton or some other alternative.
This is the time in the election cycle when media columnists write about whether endorsements have much to do with the outcome. The answer is usually, if not always, “no.”
But the question takes on another dimension this year because of the sheer weight of the endorsements against Mr. Trump. They are overwhelmingly against him, and they just keep coming, in language that is notable for its blunt condemnation of the candidate and its “save the Republic’’ tone.
The endorsements are coming not only from the usual mainstream media suspects but also from newspapers that either never before supported a Democrat or had not in many decades — The Dallas Morning News, The Arizona Republic, The Cincinnati Enquirer — or had never endorsed any presidential candidate, like USA Today. The Wall Street Journal has not gone there, at least not yet, but a member of its conservative-leaning editorial board has: Dorothy Rabinowitz, who called Mr. Trump “unfit.”
What’s most striking is the collective sense of alarm they convey — that Mr. Trump is a “dangerous demagogue” (USA Today) whose election would represent a “clear and present danger” (The Washington Post, The Cincinnati Enquirer), or, as The Atlantic editor Scott Stossel said in an interview Tuesday, “a potential national emergency or threat to the Republic.”
That’s the same base line the magazine used when it decided to break its founding vow to be “the organ of no party or clique” and endorse Johnson in 1964 and, more dramatically, Lincoln in 1860.
And yet, for all the pan-ideological dismay in America’s editorial boardrooms, a huge portion of the country just doesn’t see it the same way at all.
National polls aren’t great for predicting the final outcome in the Electoral College. But they do capture the sense of the country. And right now The New York Times’s polling average — of various national surveys — shows that 41 percent of the country would choose Mr. Trump over Mrs. Clinton if the election were held now. (With 45 percent, she still holds an edge.)
The split between editorial opinion and a significant portion of voters, especially Republican voters, has been around for decades. But this campaign takes that schism to a whole new level — not just because of the mix of publications weighing in against the Republican nominee but also because of the contrast between their apocalyptic view of a Trump presidency and his supporters’ belief that he will indeed “make America great again.”
Then again, as the language of the editorial warnings hits ever-higher decibel levels, so does the language of the attacks against the mainstream media. Mr. Trump is stoking those attacks, depicting the media as among the “special interests” that have “rigged the system against everyday Americans,” as he put it in New Hampshire last week.
Which brings us to the question of how many minds it all changes. Die-hard Trump supporters will no doubt view the editorials as more evidence for Mr. Trump’s case that the media fix is in. Mr. Trump recently said as much when he celebrated the loss of subscriptions the more surprising Clinton endorsements have caused in some cases, saying in a Twitter post: “The people are really smart in cancelling subscriptions to the Dallas & Arizona papers & now USA Today will lose readers! The people get it!”
(The Fox Business host Charles Gasparino provided one possible motive: “A jealously rooted hate” over his wealth, “his beautiful wives” and his television success.)
A driving question is whether they factor into the mix with truly undecided voters. That is, and will remain, hard to determine. I did stumble upon some interesting data from Google, which can provide a sense of what people look for on its ubiquitous search engine.
Searches for Mrs. Clinton spiked by nearly 50 percent in Dallas County after the Dallas Morning News recommendation in early September, though not as much as they did for the American swimmer Ryan Lochte — after his legal trouble in Brazil — or for the game between the Cowboys and the Giants. She trended in Cincinnati’s Hamilton County after The Enquirer’s endorsement, and in all of Arizona after The Republic’s endorsement, though data from Hamilton County shows she was behind subjects like “Clown Sightings” and “National Coffee Day” on the list.
Mr. Stossel of The Atlantic said he was aware of the divide in the country. “People who support Trump have legitimate grievances and he is speaking to them in ways that clearly resonate,” he said. (The editorial, whose language was shaped by the Atlantic correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg, addresses them by saying that Mr. Trump failed to present “realistic policies to address” their “legitimate anxieties.”)
Mr. Stossel knows that the power of endorsements can be limited. But, he said, “One hopes that our endorsement, along with many of these others, will have an amplification effect that sort of ripples out.”
“If it affects only a few people at margins in a few key states,” he said, “that may make a difference.”
“Given our previous endorsements, we’re two for two,” he noted. The streak will stand or fall Nov. 8.
(The New York Times)