If Amy Klobuchar didn’t exist, the New York Times Editorial Board would have had to invent her.
A popular, folksy Democratic centrist from an increasingly purple state? The endorsement practically writes itself. You don’t even have to know anything about Minnesota politics, aside from two magic numbers: 51 and 9. The first is how many of Minnesota’s 87 counties Klobuchar won in her 2018 Senate re-election; the latter is how many Hillary Clinton won in her presidential campaign two years earlier.
(Are Senate races and presidential campaigns different in very significant ways? Were 2016 and 2018 two very different years? Shh, quiet down, child. The very serious politics people have decided which facts are important here and which aren’t.)
But Klobuchar’s presidential campaign still struggles to get off the ground outside of Minnesota, even right next door in Iowa, where she’s been unable to rise past fifth place in the polls. So the Times board hedged its bets and made a ridiculous decision last night, splitting its endorsement between Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren.
That indecision is both a punt and a gimmick, like when Spin named “Your Hard Drive” 2001’s best album or Time put a reflective surface on its front cover and made “You” its person of the year. And it’s the perfectly embarrassing capper to the Times’ prolongedly embarrassing endorsement process, which was touted as an exercise in unprecedented transparency but instead felt pompous and self-indulgent and caked in the worst sort of reality show schmutz.
On one hand, the Klobuchar demi-endorsement is an indication that establishment forces have anointed our Senator the reasonable person’s reasonable candidate of choice. And for sure, up against Mayor McKinsey and Vice President Citibank, Klobuchar is quite an appealing centrist. If rich people who don’t want the world to change want to give somebody money, better Amy than (ugh) Joe or (eesh) Pete.
But the split endorsement is also an acknowledgement that many Democratic voters don’t want a moderate. And so, the Times also had to pick what they saw as a compromise lefty, and in their eyes, better Warren than Sanders. That means they spend several paragraphs chiding Warren for not being the sort of candidate they should have to endorse. She thinks corporate interests are responsible for environmental destruction or gun violence, for instance, whereas the Times insists that actually “society” is, whatever that means. When a paragraph in the New York Times starts “American capitalism is responsible for its share of sins,” you can see the “but” that starts the next sentence from a mile away.
The Klobuchar passages read like a second-guessing of the electorate: Here’s what you people could have had. The endorsement is kind of a guilt trip, like your mom talking about how well she got along with your ex-boyfriend in front of your fiancé. (The Times admits she’s been unable to gain momentum, but notes that John Kerry, who went on to be the nominee, ended in the single digits in Iowa as well—and who among us isn’t nostalgic for the Democrats’ 2004 glory days?)
Endorsing Klobuchar allows the Times board to repeatedly invoke the magic word “bipartisan” and get starry-eyed about compromise, because American centrism is rooted in an unshakable ideological conviction that making deals across the aisle is more important than actually achieving your goals. (Mitch McConnell disagrees, which is why he wins.)
Better yet, the Times get to talk about the Midwest as a vast land of homey generalizations somewhere to the west of Pennsylvania in a way that makes them feel good. “The senator from Minnesota is the very definition of Midwestern charisma, grit and sticktoitiveness,” the endorsement gushes, because there's nothing more important about being a Midwesterner than seeming like you come from the Midwest. When the endorsement dutifully acknowledges that messy story about Klobuchar’s poor treatment of her staff, you can almost imagine an ed board member scratching his head and muttering “But I thought those people were supposed to be nice.”
If the Klobuchar endorsement has a single thesis, it's the Times' vague assertion that she can connect to “voters’ lived experiences, especially in the middle of the country” (except in Iowa, I guess). But the Times has always had strange ideas about how we eat and how we date. Why should we expect them to understand how we vote?