The political media class was astounded on Sunday when the New Hampshire Union Leader endorsed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for the Republican presidential nomination. Mitt Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, who keeps a vacation home in New Hampshire, is assumed to have a lock on the state. With Gingrich having recently gained the polling lead nationally and in more socially conservative states such as South Carolina, could a Gingrich endorsement in Romney’s strongest state be the end of Romney’s five-year campaign?
It’s worth remembering that the Union Leader is owned by an arch conservative, Joseph W. McQuaid, who wrote the editorial. His views are not necessarily representative of New Hampshire’s more moderate Republican electorate. In 2000 the paper endorsed Steve Forbes, but the state went for John McCain.
More importantly, the endorsement is based on false assertions about Gingrich. McQuaid credits Gingrich with “forging balanced budgets and even a surplus despite the political challenge of dealing with a Democratic President. A lot of candidates say they're going to improve Washington. Newt Gingrich has actually done that.”
The most important legislation that led to federal surpluses was the Deficit Reduction Act of 1993, passed by a Democratic Congress. It cut spending and raised taxes on high income earners. Gingrich led the Republican assault on that same Democratic caucus, complaining about the tax increases. The other major contributor to the disappearance of federal budget deficits was the booming economy of the 1990s for which Gingrich cannot plausibly claim credit.
As for working with Democrats, Gingrich’s antagonistic relationship with Clinton makes current House Speaker John Boehner look like President Obama’s best friend. Gingrich shut down the government and impeached Clinton for having an extramarital affair even while Gingrich was himself carrying on a much longer affair.
But at least the Union Leader is not alone in making nonsensical endorsements. Consider Barron’s, the house organ of Wall Street. Owned by the Down Jones Company which also owns the right-wing Wall Street Journal and which is in turn owned by Rupert Murdoch, Barron’s is usually a fairly straight newspaper. But its most recent issue ran a front page story that is basically an endorsement of Mitt Romney disguised as some sort of news analysis of Romney and Obama’s platforms.
The newspaper’s cover read, “ROMNEY vs. OBAMA: One of these men is likely to cut government spending, help kick-start the economy, create jobs, boost investor confidence and keep America from going the way of Greece. The other isn’t.” I genuinely thought they might be saying that Obama was the former and Romney the latter. After all, it is Obama, not Romney, who has repeatedly offered to accept painful compromises such as cuts to Medicare, Social Security and domestic discretionary spending as part of a deficit reduction deal. In fact, Obama has already cut spending on Medicare and domestic programs. Romney says he would not agree to a deal with Democrats with $1 in increased tax revenue for every $10 in spending cuts. Such stubbornness does not bode well for our chances of reaching a grand bipartisan compromise on the budget.
The article is just partisan Republican ideology disguised as objective analysis. “The Choice Ahead: Should the U.S. continue on its path to becoming more like Europe? Or should we play to entrepreneurial strengths?” asks the author, Jim McTeague. Europe, as Barron’s may not know, is a big place. There are countries in Northern Europe with not only greater equality and social services but also healthier growth than we have had in recent years. Being more like them might not be such a bad thing. The specific crisis at the moment is emanating from a few countries with their own specific problems. In the case of Greece. those problems include too little tax revenue, not too much.
The piece goes on to praise Romney for adopting standard Republican positions, as if the assumption that those policies would generate faster economic growth is settled fact not ideological conjecture. For example, it praises Romney for adopting the McCain-Palin platform of “Drill Baby, Drill” for oil. Why would drilling for oil necessarily provide such a boost to our economy? Are they aware of the terrible economic and social cost of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico? They don’t even bother to tell you.
It’s a good thing that newspaper endorsements in presidential elections tend not to matter very much, because this first round of endorsements would mislead voters.