Endorsements: Do They Mean Anything At All?

Earlier today it was released (1) that Utah’s Senator Mike Lee has endorsed Mitt Romney for the GOP’s candidate for President of the United States. Senator Lee beat out incumbent Bob Bennett (who, ironically, was endorsed by Mitt Romney) in a run-off primary in 2010. Senator Lee’s victory was correlated to the Tea Party’s uprising two years ago, as millions of Americans across the country were proverbially “up-in-arms” about the federal government’s fiscal irresponsibility and seeming disdain for individual and civil rights.

Since becoming a Senator, Mike Lee has made quite the name for himself. He is considered a Tea Party darling, and, with Senator Rand Paul, another newly elected Tea Party darling, they have generally voted together on major issues.

This post, however, is not so much about Senator Mike Lee as it is about endorsements. What good is an endorsement? What is it used for? Endorsements, in the political arena, are seen as both meaningful and meaningless – all at the same time. When New Jersey Governor Chris Christy endorsed Mitt Romney for US President it was all over the media that Romney had somehow obtained the hopes, aspirations, and legitimacy of the “conservative vote.” However, when Senator Lee endorsed Mitt Romney for US President earlier today (after holding out for so long), supporters of Senator Lee defended his endorsement on various social networking sites saying that the endorsement doesn’t really mean anything because Romney has the GOP nomination locked away.

This would leave one to wonder if the weight of an endorsement is not in the endorsement itself but, rather, in the timing of it. Governor Christy’s endorsement came at a time when Romney needed recognition as a “conservative” candidate; after all, Romney’s ideological track record is so random that it is difficult to know where his real convictions will fall tomorrow. Senator Lee’s endorsement, however, comes at a time when Mitt Romney is seen to have the whole race already wrapped up in a nice little package. In other words, because Mitt Romney supposedly has 93% of the vote in Utah (a percentage that I am more than confident has nothing to do with his religion next to the (R) Party designation), then Senator Lee is just playing nice with his Party members and constituency.

This leads us back to the question: What good are endorsements? What are they used for? Senator Lee was elected as a “Tea Party Candidate,” yet he has endorsed a presidential candidate that has no connection whatsoever to the Tea Party or its stated platitudes. In fact, Forbes recently published an article asking if Mitt Romney has, in fact, killed the “leaderless” Tea Party altogether by “substitute[ing] sincere flattery for insincere imitation.”  In other words, Romney is placating the Tea Party, he is not adopting their principles. Since Romney has never fully embraced the Tea Party or its principles, we are left to wonder why Senator Lee has endorsed a candidate not in line with the very movement that put him in office. Even the DNC has taken notice.

Just two years after basing his insurgent campaign for Senate against Republican Senator Bennett’s vote for TARP, which he called the ‘largest redistribution of wealth ever encapsulated in one piece of legislation,’ Senator Mike Lee tomorrow is endorsing the TARP-supporting Mitt Romney for president.

One argument offered by a Senator Lee supporter claims that Lee’s endorsement is a basic good-will endeavor to unify the “coalition” against Obama. This, however, is a dangerous proposition. In a society that looks to mere moral and institutional conventionalism and norms for political legitimacy and expediency, the person who first looks to principle has little or no refuge. Today we hear the social and political platitudes and chants of “anyone [for President] but Obama.” However, this is not a principled statement, it is a conventional one. It comes from a people who are more anti-enemy than they are pro-freedom or liberty. Such a sentiment does our country great disservice, for it does not posit principle as the epitome of political practice – it posits personality and perception as the deciding factor against a perceived foe.

For me, the good will and reputation of my name means a lot. How I build or destroy my name I want on my own terms (i.e. I want to be known on the principles and beliefs that I have, not by some guilt of association of someone who I endorse). I have only publicly endorsed two candidates in my entire life – and one of those I had to back away from because of his adamant and excited acceptance of Mitt Romney’s endorsement for his campaign in 2010. The names, ideas, and principles that are associated to my name mean something to me, but this does not transfer politically.

If Senator Lee is, in fact, playing nice and forming a coalition against Obama by endorsing Mitt Romney, then he has given up any claim to principle – as he has become yet another promising leader who has compromised principle for conventionalism. There is no necessity to give your endorsement. In fact, the more endorsements are given the more worthless they are. If political Parties unofficially mandate the necessary endorsement of the Party’s candidate (which Romney hasn’t even officially received), then Party politics itself is corrupt and at the heart of America’s problems – for it promotes conventionalism above principle.

If the strength or weakness of an endorsement is mostly, if not completely, in its timing, then endorsements are worthless. The strength of an endorsement should reveal the similarities of principles, not of social or political conventions. If an endorsement is offered just to “play nice,” then that endorsement is also worthless – for it is not first rooted in the principles of just representation and good, moral, and proper government. If the endorsement is of a principled representative saying, “Here are my principles, and this other individual who represents these principles – regardless of social convention or Party politics,” then the endorsement means something.

As such, either Senator Lee is a hypocrite to his espoused Tea Party “principles,” or his endorsement is conventional and worthless.

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