Nick Kristof Wins New Republic Owner’s Vote in Potential Oregon Governor Run

Win McCormack and Carol Butler, a political power couple in the Beaver State, are prominent backers of The New York Times columnist’s foray into electoral politics

A couple years after Win McCormack took over The New Republic as owner and editor in chief, he began publishing a regular column on the back page of the magazine. It’s typically fairly tepid stuff, often cluttered with repetitive calls for McCormack’s political philosophy hobbyhorse, “civic republicanism.” But on September 16, after McCormack published one of his few (maybe first?) full-throated public pronouncements since acquiring the political journal in 2016: an endorsement of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof for governor of Oregon.

For keen readers, McCormack’s case for Kristof wasn’t all that surprising (top billing went to “communitarianism”), but the column was noteworthy for one thing he had left out: Thirteen days before the column was published online, Politico had reported that Kristof was “coordinating closely” on his potential campaign with political consultant Carol Butler, McCormack’s longtime domestic partner. Former New Republic staff writer Libby Watson was quick to note the undisclosed conflict of interest, tweeting on the morning McCormack’s column was published, “this is deeply embarrassing.” Hours after Watson’s critique started circulating, Kristof tweeted out McCormack’s column to his 2 million followers, calling it “some advice on whether I should run for governor of Oregon.”

The New Republic soon added the necessary disclosure. “We made a mistake,” admitted the magazine’s current editor Michael Tomasky in an email to Off the Record. “Then someone tweeted a reference to the Politico article that laid out Carol’s role in Kristof’s exploratory effort, and we moved quickly to correct the mistake that day and add the disclaimer.” The column now includes a parenthetical: “(I’m connected to Kristof through my partner, Carol Butler, who is overseeing staffing up his possible campaign.)”

McCormack, who did not respond to requests for comment, has long been a prominent player in Oregon politics. “He’s been a donor and someone that people consult with when they’re thinking about running,” said Jim Moore, a political scientist at Pacific University near Portland. Moore said McCormack’s endorsement, and its implication of possible financial support, may be enough to tip the scales in Kristof’s favor in what is shaping up to be a competitive Democratic gubernatorial primary election scheduled for next May.

“Win McCormack is crucial to what in politics we often call the money primary,” Moore said. Without a clear establishment candidate choice, he added, “donors could follow him. They’ve got a lot of choices at this point, so we haven’t seen where any of the big money’s really focused yet.”

This seemed to be the message Butler was sending when she told Politico that, should Kristof choose to run, “I think he would have the resources to run a very competitive race.” Though any question of McCormack’s financial support is, at this point, purely hypothetical. “Mr. McCormack has not donated any money at all to Mr. Kristof’s exploratory effort,” a spokesperson at a law firm working with Kristof’s pre-campaign team told Off the Record. “Furthermore, his partner, Carol Butler, is not being paid for her involvement and is acting as a volunteer.”

Kristof, who’s been on leave from The Times since June while he ponders officially declaring for the race, declined Off the Record’s interview request because, according to the spokesperson, he’s “focused on Oregon publications rather than national ones.”

Since buying The New Republic in February 2016, McCormack — who, following the example of his Harvard lecturer and prior TNR owner, Marty Peretz, took on the editor-in-chief title when he purchased the magazine — has insisted that imposing his political whims on the publication is his prerogative. But for the most part, staff said, his inclinations have been expressed more through high-level personnel changes than micro-management. He’s on his fifth top editor since taking over. (Disclosure: The first to go was Gabriel Snyder, Off the Record’s publisher and editor-in-chief.)

McCormack has a long history in publishing — he helped start Mother Jones and has been a longtime backer of The Nation. He’s founded a number of publications in Portland, where he lives, including local publications Oregon BusinessOregon Home, and Travel Oregon. He also owned literary journal Tin House, which shuttered in 2019, and is a principal backer of The Baffler. “There’s people who think an owner of a magazine has no right to interfere with the editorial,” he told Blue Tent, a publication aimed at progressives donors, last year. “You can argue about that, but the fact is I’m also an experienced editor and writer.”

But nonetheless, according to Tomasky, The New Republic won’t be a pillar of any Kristof campaign. “We don’t plan on giving this race extensive coverage,” he said, “but if we ever do, we’ll include a disclaimer in any piece making note of Carol Butler’s role.”