FARGO - For the first time in more than a half century, The Forum Editorial Board is not endorsing the Republican candidate for president this year.
It won't endorse the Democrat, either, or a third-party candidate, joining the avalanche of newspapers with traditionally Republican editorial pages that have refused to urge readers to vote for Donald Trump.
"We made the call that both candidates don't measure up for the most important office in the land, some would say the most important office on the globe," said Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski.
The last time The Forum Editorial Board didn't support the GOP presidential nominee, Lyndon Johnson was in the White House and facing a challenge from Barry Goldwater. Then, as now, a polarizing Republican candidate was opposed by some in his own party, the campaign rhetoric was harsh and the Russians were even accused of trying to meddle, albeit with seemingly well-timed rocket launches instead of email hacks.
Zaleski, who has been editorial page editor since 1987, said he cannot recall as long a discussion over a presidential endorsement as the one he had with the board Monday, Oct. 17.
For endorsements as important as a presidential election, Zaleski said the final decision falls to two Editorial Board members: the chairman of Forum Communications Co., William C. Marcil, and his son, Forum Communications CEO and publisher of The Forum, Bill Marcil Jr.
Only a couple U.S. newspapers have endorsed Trump in the general election, none among the nation's largest. Many that have usually or always endorsed Republicans for president have backed Clinton, including the Arizona Republic and the Dallas Morning News. A few support Libertarian Gary Johnson, including the Chicago Tribune.
But it didn't take long for The Forum Editorial Board to conclude it wouldn't endorse any presidential candidate, Zaleski said. Deciding how to explain why, however, took a bit of discussion, he said.
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, is an able public servant with ample experience, he said, but the scandals such as her use of a private email server while secretary of state made her a questionable choice.
Trump is a successful businessman with good negotiating skills, Zaleski said, but his personal behaviors, including lewd comments about women, made him a questionable choice.
"The Trump candidacy and the way he's handled his candidacy has probably done more to destroy the Republican Party as we knew it than anything in years," he said.
Echoes of the past
The Forum's Editorial Board give little explanation in 1964, when it refused to endorse Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater, the conservative firebrand from Arizona.
But commentary on the editorial page in the weeks leading up to the endorsement provides context for the decision. Goldwater, like Trump, divided his party. Pundits worried the senator, who suggested nuclear weapons could be put to use in North Vietnam and who voted against the Civil Rights Act, would drive away moderate Republicans. It didn't help that the Ku Klux Klan endorsed him, though he disavowed the group's support.
Johnson won in a landslide, taking even states that usually vote Republican, such as North Dakota. His party, which already controlled both houses of Congress, gained even more seats.
The Forum's editorial position in 1964 was as rare as it is this year, though it has often endorsed Democrats in statewide races. (The newspaper's editorials, and its Editorial Board, are separate from the objective newsgathering efforts of its newsroom.)
In 1960, it endorsed for president Richard Nixon, who lost to John F. Kennedy. In earlier elections, Forum editorials about the issues of the day made the Editorial Board's preferred presidential candidate clear through a string of attacks on the Democrat and continuous praise for the Republican, though it didn't necessarily publish explicit endorsement editorials.
In every year since 1964, the Editorial Board of The Forum has endorsed the Republican presidential candidate. In every case, it matched the mood of North Dakota voters, who have not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since.
Here's a look at those endorsements:
The Editorial Board endorsed Nixon a second time, describing an electorate "in a mood of frustration" with the White House and Congress controlled by Democrats.
The endorsement editorial said Democrat Hubert Humphrey, a Minnesotan who was vice president under Johnson, wouldn't be a bad choice but worried he'd be a continuation of Johnson. It also questioned whether Humphrey could effectively lead due to the split in his own party over segregation, which led former Alabama Gov. George Wallace to mount an independent campaign.
Nixon went on to win the presidency, including a win in North Dakota. Humphrey won Minnesota.
Amidst the Vietnam War, The Forum endorsed Nixon yet again, saying there's "no good reason" why the voters should replace him with Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D., who opposed the war.
Nixon had tried to end fighting in Vietnam, but the North Vietnamese were to blame for it continuing, the editorial said. He was also praised for pushing to end the draft, attacking inflation aggressively and negotiating an agreement to sell wheat to the Soviet Union
Nixon went on to win the presidency in a landslide, including wins in North Dakota and Minnesota.
The board endorsed Republican incumbent Gerald Ford, who took office after Nixon resigned in disgrace mid-term. The editorial spent a good deal of space explaining why debates shouldn't really matter to voters, alluding to Ford's incredible claim in one debate with Democrat Jimmy Carter, former governor of Georgia, that Eastern Europe was not then under Soviet domination.
But The Forum said it stood by the Republican because he "courageously stood up to the big spending demands of the Democratic-controlled Congress."
Carter went on to win the presidency, including a win in Minnesota. Ford won North Dakota.
In an I-told-you-so mood, the editorial said, "This newspaper opposed Carter four years ago. Nothing he has done has suggested we were wrong then." The economy was in trouble, the Iran-Iraq War threatened oil supplies and Carter had done North Dakota many wrongs, including blocking the Garrison Diversion and wheat sales to the Soviet Union, the editorial said.
Former California Gov. Ronald Reagan deserved a chance because his debate performance showed he's not a "shoot-from-the-hip scoundrel that Carter portrays him to be," the editorial said.
Reagan went on to win the presidency in a landslide, including a win in North Dakota. Carter won Minnesota.
The board gushed over Reagan. "President Ronald Reagan has turned America around, as he promised he would when elected in 1980," the editorial said. "When he says on television that there is a new spirit in the country, only blind cynicism could say, 'no there's not.'"
Reagan, by the way, allowed wheat to be sold to the Soviets again. His Democratic opponent, Walter Mondale, another former vice president who was a Minnesota senator, was mentioned only once.
The former actor won big again to earn a second term, carrying 49 states. Mondale's only win was in Minnesota.
The Editorial Board approvingly noted that George H.W. Bush came from the moderate wing of the party and praised his experience. "Few people in American history have been as prepared for the presidency as Vice President George Bush," the endorsement said. "His qualifications are superb, his integrity is intact, and his reputation as a sincere and caring man is deserved."
It painted his Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis, former governor of Massachusetts, as an "ideologue" with "far left" social and economic policies.
Bush won the presidency and North Dakota. Dukakis won Minnesota.
"If everything the Democrats are saying about President George Bush were true, the United States would be an economic basket case on the verge of plunging to third world status," read the first line of the editorial endorsing Bush's re-election bid. The editorial warned Bush was the last hope of the GOP's moderate wing, preventing the party from being hijacked by "myopic idealogues from the far right."
While Bush won the Gulf War and re-established the U.S. as a world leader, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton lacked the experience to lead the nation, the editorial noted. It cast Clinton as an opportunist who has "mastered the technique of being on both sides of an issue when it suits his political purpose."
Clinton carried Minnesota in winning his first term. Bush won North Dakota.
Supporting Kansas Sen. Bob Dole came down to "honest, trust, and yes, character," the editorial said. "On all three, President Bill Clinton fails. And on all three, former Sen. Bob Dole measures up." It bemoaned Dole's lackluster performance in the polls, even in North Dakota, but said the senator isn't a "creature of modern media politics" like Clinton.
Clinton won re-election, winning in Minnesota. Dole won North Dakota.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush had the right temperament and a "sensible agenda" of "compassionate conservatism," the editorial said, while Vice President Al Gore "tried to sell a program distinguished by divisiveness and reliance on appeals to class warfare."
The editorial also criticized Gore for his association with a White House "stained by lies, scandal and behaviors usually associated with back alley brothels."
After a lengthy recount and a Supreme Court decision, Bush won. He carried North Dakota, but Gore won Minnesota.
The Editorial Board said Bush had been "clear, decisive and unwavering" since the attacks on 9/11. While conceding the justification for the war in Iraq was based on "faulty intelligence," the board suggested it hadn't been a mistake to "help establish a nation in the Middle East where rudimentary democracy can take root."
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, Bush's opponent, also supported the war. But he favored "an activist federal government," which made him a bad choice, the editorial said.
Bush won North Dakota and a second term. Kerry won Minnesota.
The endorsement for Arizona Sen. John McCain was lukewarm, noting he was "not the perfect presidential candidate. But he's a better choice than Barack Obama."
The domestic policy of the first-term Illinois senator "tilts socialistically toward unprecedented government control of almost every aspect of American life. His programs, if implemented, would plunge the nation into a deeper economic hole," the editorial said.
Obama won, carrying Minnesota. McCain won North Dakota.
The endorsement of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said he'd "emerged as a competent, qualified challenger who clearly is up to the job of returning the nation to pre-recession prosperity, job creation and restored status on the world stage." Romney wasn't like the "lunatic on the tea-party right," the editorial said, because he grasped "the value of a proper balance between government and the private sector."
While Obama inherited a weak economy from Bush, the recovery had been "the slowest in modern times," which the editorial said was his fault.
Obama won again, including in Minnesota. Romney won in North Dakota.