The unprecedented presidential endorsements stand out for a reason

The editorial endorsements that stand out come from publications that feel compelled by circumstances to take a bold public stand for the first time.
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A man walking through the lobby of the Gannett-USA Today headquarters building in McLean, Virginia on August 20, 2013.Paul J. Richards / AFP - Getty Images file

Around this time every four years, news consumers will see a variety of publications' editorial boards publish presidential endorsements. They tend to run the gamut, from eloquent to predictable, from persuasive to forgettable.

But the ones that tend to stand out most are the unusual ones: publications that prefer to remain neutral ahead of Election Day, but which feel compelled by circumstances to take a bold public stand for the first time.

Take this new editorial from USA Today, for example.

Four years ago, the Editorial Board -- an ideologically and demographically diverse group of journalists that is separate from the news staff and operates by consensus -- broke with tradition and took sides in the presidential race for the first time since USA TODAY was founded in 1982. We urged readers not to vote for Donald Trump, calling the Republican nominee unfit for office because he lacked the "temperament, knowledge, steadiness and honesty that America needs from its presidents." We stopped short, however, of an outright endorsement of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee. This year, the Editorial Board unanimously supports the election of Joe Biden, who offers a shaken nation a harbor of calm and competence.

Over the course of nearly four decades of publication, USA Today has taken a degree of pride in never having endorsed a presidential candidate. This year, the newspaper's editorial board is making an exception.

"If this were a choice between two capable major party nominees who happened to have opposing ideas, we wouldn't choose sides," the editorial reads. "Different voters have different concerns. But this is not a normal election, and these are not normal times. This year, character, competence and credibility are on the ballot. Given Trump's refusal to guarantee a peaceful transfer of power if he loses, so, too, is the future of America's democracy."

As it turns out, the national newspaper isn't alone in breaking with its own election-season traditions. Scientific American, for example, has been publishing for 175 years, and in that time, the magazine has literally never endorsed a presidential candidate from either party. Last month, Scientific American also endorsed Joe Biden.

Earlier this month, NBC News reported that the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world, "broke with a nearly two-century tradition of avoiding politics to lambaste U.S. politicians for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic." Though the NEJM did not explicitly reference Trump, the editors were hardly subtle when they wrote, "When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs."

What's more, Axios noted today that El Nuevo Día, the largest-circulated Puerto Rican newspaper, also endorsed Biden in the first endorsement of its 50-year history.

As for newspaper editorial boards backing Trump, the editorial board of the Santa Barbara News-Press is backing the Republican incumbent, just as it did four years ago, and the president has also picked up the backing of the editorial board of the Las Vegas Review-Journal­ -- which just so happens to be owned by billionaire Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson -- and which also backed Trump in 2016.

According to The Hill, Trump received fewer endorsements than any other major-party presidential candidate in American history, but he won anyway. We'll learn in a couple of weeks whether he can pull this off again.