NEA’s Presidential Endorsement Dilemma

It’s a year prior to a Presidential election, which usually means the National Education Association is wrestling with the whos, whats and whens of endorsing a candidate.

Back in 2007 NEA invited a boatload of candidates to address its annual Representative Assembly (RA). The original idea was to endorse early, but you may recall there was no clear front-runner at the time, and even when the contest was subsequently whittled down to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the union was evenly split and made no endorsement until after Obama had already sewn up enough party delegates to win the Democratic nomination.

In 2011 the big controversy was over whether to endorse Obama for reelection so far in advance. NEA officers made the argument that they needed to get out in front early this time, but there was grumbling about the President’s education policy and some wanted to withhold the endorsement as a sign of displeasure.

Ultimately the endorsement passed easily, but without much enthusiasm.

This year NEA got the ball rolling early with candidate questionnaires, interviews and invitations to speak at the RA. But it’s all theater because many delegates have been waiting since Bill Clinton left office to make Hillary the first female President of the United States. Since the other candidates are old white men, or Republicans, or both, there is no alternative appealing enough to overcome Clinton’s inherent advantages.

The problem for NEA is that there is no reason to believe Clinton’s education policies will be a radical departure from those of President Obama. And even a best case electoral scenario would put Hillary in the White House and the Senate back in Democratic hands, but no one expects the GOP to lose the House. Hillary’s first term would resemble Obama’s.

That won’t sit well with the militants, who aren’t looking forward to another eight years of disappointment and frustration with establishment Democrats. A strategy of “Elect Hillary and hope for the best” won’t be enough to mollify them.

The militants don’t have the strength to derail the inevitable, especially without a viable champion (Elizabeth Warren?) to rally behind as an alternative. But a rerun of the Obama years could have enormous internal consequences for NEA in the near future. Doing the same old thing in the same old way was a disaster for the union in the 2014 elections. If it repeats in 2016, someone might finally be given the chance to try something new.