But the magazine made news Wednesday afternoon by departing from 159 years of hallowed practice—and a fierce institutional pride in never aligning itself with, as the mag’s motto goes, any “party or clique”—to officially endorse the Democratic nominee for president.
“We’re not kidding ourselves here. We don’t think this moves large numbers of voters,” said National Correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote the draft of the endorsement editorial on which half a dozen senior editors and writers weighed in, including top editor Scott Stossel, Washington Editor James Fallows and national correspondent Ta-Nehesi Coates. “But I think it’s important for this magazine, with this history, to honor its history.”
The Clinton endorsement—which is more condemnation of the Republican nominee, “who might be the most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency,” than enthusiastic approval of his Democratic opponent—is only the third time in its long life that the magazine has stuck its neck out in a presidential election.
The Atlantic’s owner, David Bradley, gave the endorsement his seal of approval, and it will appear in the print issue to be published next week. The previous two endorsements were for Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater in 1964—again, more anti-Goldwater than pro-Johnson—and a wholehearted recommendation of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 for his anti-slavery stance.
According to Goldberg, who spoke to The Daily Beast on behalf of the magazine, the editors and writers have been chewing on endorsing for the past couple of months—and finally pulled the trigger a couple of weeks ago, when the endorsement was put into final form.
“The Atlantic was to be a non-partisan magazine of no party or clique, and that has guided the magazine today, which is why the magazine doesn’t usually make endorsements,” Goldberg explained. “It is only when one of the candidates is so far outside the boundaries of their party’s own ideology, when the candidate so temperamentally unsuited,” that the magazine would take an official position.
Thus the new editorial savages the reality show billionaire, who “has no record of public service and no qualifications for public office,” the magazine argues. “His affect is that of an infomercial huckster; he traffics in conspiracy theories and racist invective; he is appallingly sexist; he is erratic, secretive, and xenophobic; he expresses admiration for authoritarian rulers, and evinces authoritarian tendencies himself. He is easily goaded, a poor quality for someone seeking control of America’s nuclear arsenal. He is an enemy of fact-based discourse; he is ignorant of, and indifferent to, the Constitution; he appears not to read.”
While Clinton “has flaws (some legitimately troubling, some exaggerated by her opponents)…she is among the most prepared candidates ever to seek the presidency,” the magazine declares. “We are confident that she understands the role of the United States in the world; we have no doubt that she will apply herself assiduously to the problems confronting this country; and she has demonstrated an aptitude for analysis and hard work.”
The Atlantic, which published the writings of Mark Twain and Frederick Douglass (who boast author pages on the magazine’s web site), was founded by a group of thought-leaders that included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Harriet Beecher Stowe and James Russell Lowell—the magazine’s longtime editor who wrote the Lincoln endorsement.
In fashioning the latest endorsement, titled “Against Donald Trump,” Goldberg consulted yellowing pages in the collection of bound volumes in order to be faithful to The Atlantic’s intellectual traditions.
“As extreme as Goldwater was,” Goldberg said, referring to the legendary Arizona Republican senator who opposed federal civil rights legislation and favored the use of nuclear weapons, “he was more experienced, more balanced, and more sober-minded than Donald Trump. He had certain mitigating qualities, and actual experience in government and public service. In fact, Trump’s temperament is worse than Goldwater’s.”
Indeed, toward the end of his life, the conservative Goldwater was a beloved figure who was celebrated, even by liberal former distractors, for his personal integrity, adherence to principle, and his impassioned support for gay rights.
“We take pride in being nonpartisan,” said Washington editor at large Steve Clemons, adding that Trump’s supporters, however misguided, “represent a certain authentic feeling, an attitude of people who feel frustrated and left behind.”