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New Hampshire Union Leader just broke a 100-plus year streak of endorsing a Republican

CNN logo CNN 10/26/2020 Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
Joe Biden wearing a suit and tie: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden takes off his face mask to speak during a drive-in campaign rally at Bucks County Community College on October 24, 2020 in Bristol, Pennsylvania. Biden is making two campaign stops in the battleground state of Pennsylvania on Saturday. © Drew Angerer/Getty Images Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden takes off his face mask to speak during a drive-in campaign rally at Bucks County Community College on October 24, 2020 in Bristol, Pennsylvania. Biden is making two campaign stops in the battleground state of Pennsylvania on Saturday.

On Sunday, as President Donald Trump arrived in New Hampshire to rally his faithful supporters just more than a week before the election, he was greeted with this very unwelcome headline in the largest newspaper in the state: "Our choice is Joe Biden."

What followed in the piece penned by the editorial board of New Hampshire Union Leader was a point-by-point takedown of Trump's presidency from a decidedly conservative perspective. (The paper's ed board hasn't endorsed a Democrat for president in more than 100 years!)

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On Covid-19: "We may be turning a corner with this virus, but the corner we turned is down a dark alley of record infections and deaths. Mr. Trump is a self-proclaimed expert on a wide variety of topics, but when pushed on basic topics he doesn't want to discuss, he very quickly feigns ignorance."

On the national debt: "Since Trump took over, the national debt has exploded by more than 7 TRILLION dollars. While the last several trillion was in response to the COVID-19 economic crisis, at least the first three trillion was on the books well before the pandemic, while Trump was presiding over '...the best economy we've ever had in the history of our country.' (Trump's words.)"

On Twitter: "Donald Trump did not create the social-media-driven political landscape we now live in, but he has weaponized it. He is a consummate linguistic takedown artist, ripping apart all comers to the delight of his fanbase but at the expense of the nation. America faces many challenges and needs a president to build this country up. This appears to be outside of Mr. Trump's skill set."

The conclusion? "President Trump is not always 100 percent wrong, but he is 100 percent wrong for America," wrote the Union Leader editorial board.


Video: Conservative paper endorses Democrat for first time in 100 years (CNN)

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It's hard to overstate the influence of the Union Leader in conservative circles. Much of that sway is born of its status as the biggest voice in a state that holds the first presidential primary in the country every four years. That means that the Union Leader -- and its publisher Joe McQuaid -- are relentlessly courted every four years by every aspiring GOP candidate under the belief that a kind word -- or even an endorsement -- from the paper's editorial page could make the difference between winning and losing in the Granite State.

As Julia Ioffe wrote for The Washington Post back in early 2016:

"For six decades, ever since the Granite State began to host the first-in-the-nation primary, McQuaid's paper has been the loudest conservative voice in state politics. In every presidential cycle, local campaign directors send their candidates there, hoping to win the Union Leader's endorsement. [Donald] Trump, too, made the pilgrimage, took selfies with staffers and, in the fall, had lunch with McQuaid at the Derryfield Country Club here."

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That relationship soured, however, as it became clear that Trump was a far cry from the smaller government, fiscal conservatives that McQuaid and his paper preferred. Not only did the Union Leader endorse then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in advance of the 2016 GOP primary in the state, but McQuaid savaged Trump in several front-page editorials.

"He reminds us of the grownup bully 'Biff' in the 'Back to the Future' movie series," wrote McQuaid of Trump in late 2015. "Trump can certainly be an entertaining character. He toys with TV journalists and dismisses critics with name-calling that drives the Politically Correct crowd insane. But his public descent into bathroom humor and verbal bullying has been painful, and educational, to watch."

Trump, because he is Trump, responded by calling McQuaid a "very dishonest man" and insisting that he had done many favors for the newspaper publisher over the years.

Despite the Union-Leader's opposition, Trump won the New Hampshire primary in a walk. (Christie finished sixth -- and endorsed Trump shortly afterward.) In the general election, McQuaid kept up his opposition -- although he didn't go as far as he did in 2020. Instead, the Union Leader endorsed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and running mate Bill Weld, calling them "a bright light of hope and reason." Of Trump, McQuaid wrote: "The man is a liar, a bully, a buffoon. He denigrates any individual or group that displeases him."

Trump lost New Hampshire to Hillary Clinton by less than 3,000 votes in 2016. Johnson took almost 31,000 votes (4% of the total vote).

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Given its anti-Trump stance, the Union Leader's decision to endorse a Democrat for the first time in nearly a century isn't likely to move a ton of votes -- either away from Trump or to Biden.

But it does speak to just how far traditional voices in the conservative movement are willing to go in order to make clear their opposition to Trump. Even a few years ago, it would have been unimaginable for the Union Leader to endorse a Democrat for president. Trump, however, has made literally anything possible in the world of politics -- upending traditional alliances and forcing a reexamination of what words like "Republican" and "conservative" even mean.

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