Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Did the New York Times Actually Endorse Amy Klobuchar for VP?

Because let's be honest: That's what the NYT's dual endorsement was all about.
January 22, 2020
Did the New York Times Actually Endorse Amy Klobuchar for VP?
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 17: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) speaks during a campaign rally at First Avenue on January 17, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Klobuchar spoke to a crowd of supporters on the first day of early voting for the 2020 presidential primary in Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

I don’t think a lot of us were expecting the New York Times to take its much-hyped endorsement in the Democratic primary and use it to recommend Amy Klobuchar for vice-president. Strangely, that’s more or less what they did.

Yes, I know. Supposedly they offered a split endorsement for president, giving a nod both to Klobuchar and to Elizabeth Warren. This is their attempt to punt on the big issue of the Democratic primaries—radicals versus moderates—by picking one of each.

The Democratic primary contest is often portrayed as a tussle between moderates and progressives…. Both the radical and realist models warrant serious consideration…. That’s why we’re endorsing the most effective advocate for each approach.

But this actually damns Warren with faint praise. If Warren were really an effective advocate for the more radical approach, wouldn’t she have been able to win over the New York Times and earn their endorsement outright? After all, the citadels of the elite media have been her base to this point in the primary race. So rather than functioning as an endorsement of Warren, the Times’s split serves as a reminder that her candidacy has not been as compelling as her supporters had hoped.

For Klobuchar, on the other hand, the Times endorsement is a big boost. It pulls her out of relative obscurity—she’s been bouncing around at about 3 percent in the polls—and treats her as if she’s a top-tier candidate.

But of course, Klobuchar is not in the top tier and there is no evidence that she has any pathway to the nomination.

However, if Joe Biden wins the nomination he’s going to be looking for a running mate who can counterbalance his old-white-maleness without scaring off centrist voters. The Times just raised Klobuchar’s profile for that position.

See what I mean? Functionally, this is an endorsement of Amy Klobuchar for vice-president.

Behind that, though, there are more ominous hints of a crackup on the left, which the split NYT endorsement is trying to paper over. The contest between radicals and progressives is not just about their economic policies. It’s about whether they view the American system of government itself as worth preserving.

The history of the editorial board would suggest that we would side squarely with the candidate with a more traditional approach to pushing the nation forward, within the realities of a constitutional framework and a multiparty country. But the events of the past few years have shaken the confidence of even the most committed institutionalists. We are not veering away from the values we espouse, but we are rattled by the weakness of the institutions that we trusted to undergird those values.

There are legitimate questions about whether our democratic system is fundamentally broken.

You could read this as the New York Times confessing that it is losing confidence in the American system of government as such, including the Constitution and “multiparty” politics—as opposed to what, a one-party system? So it is now contemplating chucking the whole thing out. This is the Grey Lady standing on a ledge, about to plunge into the abyss of revolutionary ideology and not quite being able to talk herself down.

Their prophecy could be self-fulfilling, because it is itself an example of the failure of institutions that the New York Times worries about. After all, the Times surely counts as one of the institutions that makes up our political system. It’s a very strange position the Times is in: Worried that our institutions are not doing enough to protect our way of life and contemplating solving this problem by smashing the whole thing to pieces.

We have a tendency to catastrophize about the state of the world and gravitate to the most pessimistic view. Yet this tendency raises the risk that we will cause the very disasters we’re trying to avoid. If we look at a society that is historically well-off, peaceful, and orderly, and we imagine—with help from the latest hysterical rantings on social media—that it is all collapsing into chaos, then we are likely to precipitate the collapse of the institutions that brought us our freedom and prosperity.

The right is already doing this. They exaggerate the prospects of an imminent socialist dictatorship and then make everything into a “Flight 93 Election” where we have to crash the plane in order to save it. The Times’s flustered vaporing about the failure of our institutions is the same thing, but for the “progressive” left.

That would all be very worrisome for those of us who think that we should do what we can to preserve our best institutions. Except that by also endorsing Klobuchar, the Times undercuts that message.

The Times’s hesitation over Warren (or, for that matter, their favoring of Warren over Sanders) shows the weakness of the radical wing of the Democrats. The radicals have enough pull among the college-educated “progressive activist” wing of the party, which is hugely over-represented in the media, to make the New York Times afraid to cross them by endorsing the leading moderate, Joe Biden. But they can’t field an appealing enough candidate to get the Times to jump onto their bandwagon.

Meanwhile, it’s not Sanders or Warren—and certainly not Klobuchar—who is leading the polls for the Democratic primary. The editorial board of the New York Times may have put itself in closer touch with the fresh-out-of-college wokesters on their staff, the kids who have been agitating for every story in the paper to be about racial politics.

But it’s looking like this has put them totally out of touch—thank goodness—with the average Democratic party voter.

Robert Tracinski

Robert Tracinski is editor of Symposium, a journal of liberalism, and writes additional commentary at The Tracinski Letter.