Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Edwards Drops Out, Possibly At The Wrong Time

Former Sen. John Edwards' populist campaign never really caught on. As a glib trial lawyer, with a $6 million home, $400 haircuts and a record of working for a hedge fund after leaving the Senate, he was not altogether believable in that role, and some of his fire was stolen in any event by another insurgent candidate, Sen. Barack Obama.

But the decision of Edwards to withdraw from the campaign today is, I think, too bad. Coming just six days before Super Tuesday, it deprives the electorate in 22 states from a third choice in the Democratic contest, and it may well help the establishment candidate in the race, Sen. Hillary Clinton, to withstand what had been a developing surge toward Obama.

The reason is that in a campaign which the Clintons have sporadically turned racial, Edwards, to the extent he got votes, was possibly taking some white votes away from Clinton. Now, before national sentiment in the presidential race has really crystalized, she has a better chance to wrap it up on Super Tuesday next week.

While Edwards was in the race, due to the Democratic commitment in many states to proportional delegate selection, it was more conceivable that together Obama and Edwards could have scraped together a coalition at the Democratic convention that would have stopped Clinton.

I don't underestimate the power and attractiveness of the Obama candidacy. And we'll see what happens in Thursday's debate and the days ahead, with the campaigning for Obama of the Kennedys and further consideration in the Latino communities as to where their interests truly lie. Obama has arguments -- on his stronger anti-war position and even on a stronger stand for immigration reform than Clinton, who has waffled on both matters -- but he could have been fortified to some extent with Edwards' still in the race.

In quitting, or, as he said, "suspending" his campaign, Edwards did not endorse either Obama or Clinton today. That is not really surprising, because Edwards has played a rather ambiguous role as regards favoring either Clinton or Obama. In the critical pre-New Hampshire primary debate, he seemed to side with Obama against the shrill attacks of Clinton. But his statement after the near-crying episode of Clinton in Portsmouth, N.H., he may actually have helped Clinton by too grossly depicting her as showing, by tearing up, that she was unfit for the presidfency. This created sympathy for Clinton, who squeaked through in New Hampshire with a two-point victory over Obama.

In any case, Edwards, the trial attorney, is not perhaps the most believable candidate. I'm not sure his endorsement would mean all that much to Obama, even if he were to get it.

On the Republican side, too, the narrowing of the field, with the withdrawal of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, tends, even though former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee remains as a candidate, to make it more of a two-man race between Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Despite Giuliani's endorsement of McCain, and the supposed uniting of the security-oriented vote behind McCain, I'm not sure Romney is out of it in the Republican race. He still has plenty of his own money, and the pitch he made in Florida for conservative votes may be more successful in some other states than it was in the more fractured field in Florida.

Romney is not well-liked by the other candidates, and for good reason. He has been on nearly every side of every issue. But conservative and evangelical antipathy to McCain remains powerful, and, as the sole impediment outside the Deep South to McCain's bid for the GOP nomination, Romney may yet make this a fight with an uncertain outcome. But don't think that the unscrupulous Clintons would not skillfully use anti-Mormon sentiments in a general election campaign against Romney, just as they will use age arguments against McCain and have used a barely-veiled racial pitch against Obama. The Clintons will do anything they feel they need to, to win.

My own position in these contests is clear. On Dec. 26, this blog endorsed Obama and McCain for their respective party nominations, viewing them as the most able and principled candidates. Nothing since then has occurred to alter my opnion. On the contrary, the increasing evidence that the Clintons are attempting a power grab, and the threat of a co-presidency if the Clintons are returned to the White House, have made my feelings even stronger.

There are a good many people, I think, who object vehemently to a restoration of Clinton rule in the White House, and they may now be forced to accept Obama as her only Democratic alternative, even if they were not for him before Edwards left the race.

Perhaps representative of this view is the editorial endorsing Obama that appeared today in Rupert Murdoch's New York Post. While disagreeing with Obama on many issues, the Post said he was preferable to Clinton.

"Obama represents a fresh start," the editorial said. "His opponent, and her husband, stand for deja vu all over again -- a return to the opportunistic, scandal-scarred, morally muddled years of the almost infinitely self-indulgent Clinton co-presidency.

"Does America really want to go through all that once again? It will -- if Sen. Clinton becomes president. That much has become painfully apparent.

"Bill Clinton's thuggishly self-centered campaign antics conjure so many bad, sad memories that it's hard to know where to begin. Suffice it to say that his Peck's-Bad-Boy smirk -- the Clinton trademark -- wore thin a long time ago. Far more to the point, Sen. Clinton could have reined him in at any time. But she chose not to -- which tells the nation all it needs to know about what a Clinton II presidency would be like."

The editorial said that while Obama "is not without flaws," he "has the ability to inspire. Again, we don't agree much with Obama on substantive issues. But many Democrats will. He should be their choice on Tuesday."

I'm rarely in agreement with Rupert Murdoch. But in this case, his newspaper is 100% right.


To the extent that McCain has made a comeback from early last year, when it seemed his candidacy had imploded, there was one newspaper columnist who more than any others always thought this was a possibility. That is David Brooks of the New York Times, who wrote a year ago that he thought McCain would very possibly make a comeback in the race. Brooks said then that the "surge" of troops President Bush had ordered in Iraq might succeed, and that, McCain, as the candidate most associated with it, could then come back. Turns out, he was right.

As for the failure of the Giuliani candidacy, which collapsed in weeks after he had held the lead in the polls for most of a year, it is true that it turned out to be a critical mistake for Giuliani to skip both Iowa and New Hampshire and put all his eggs on a later primary, Florida. But, also, Giuliani proved to be too one-dimensional a candiate, focused too much on his role in 9-11 to the exclusion of everything else. And when he did speak of 9-11 and the War on Terror, Giuliani seemed too strident. Many came to view him as possibly dangerous in foreign policy.

Also, the New York Times and others went after Giuliani on such personal issues as his third marriage, the way he had treated his former wives, and estrangement of his children, and his playing fast and loose with his consulting firm and some of his associations as mayor. In time, the criticisms eroded his standing. Those who said he could not build on his background to compete successfully nationwide turned out to have been correct.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since you're an obvious hawk on Iraq, it's difficult to understand your fawning over Obama, who has consistently opposed the war in Iraq. John Edwards said early in his campaign that he made a mistake in voting to authorize force in Iraq and he conducted a noble effort that addressed the problems of the poor in this country. All you could summon up about his candidacy are snide remarks about his $400 hair cut and how he supposedly is a "glib trial lawyer." Who are are you? Seemingly a character assassin without much character.

1/30/2008 11:11 AM  

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