For the first time in this prolonged and confusing primary race, we can see Barack Obama’s path to the Democratic nomination and the presidency. Three truths light his way.
The first is that Hillary Clinton has peaked. She’s got all the support she’s ever going to get. She has nowhere to go but down.
Hillary’s strength is intellectual swindle in what passes today for “debates.” So far she’s been able to sell failure (on health care) and bad votes (on Iraq and Iran) as “experience.” She’s sold waffling and poll-watching as “leadership” and refusing to answer questions as “wisdom” or “debating skill.” No one who’s not already for her is going to wake up some day and say, “Gee, that’s just what we need in a president!”
There are too many clips of Hillary switching positions, for example, in her little immigrant-drivers-license dance. As more voters focus on her record, more will come to understand that she is no leader and has little to offer but being female.
The second truth is that John Edwards can’t win. In some ways, he’s an attractive candidate. For a politician, he’s preternaturally honest and open. He’s diagnosed what ails us domestically: Congress’ nearly complete capture by monied special interests. But that’s nothing new. John McCain has been pointing that out for years.
Regardless of his honesty in speaking truth to power, two flaws will eventually sink Edwards’ candidacy. First, he has virtually no experience in foreign or military affairs. He can’t credibly claim that stopping special interests at home will thwart international terrorism or win our struggles in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Korea. A trial lawyer is no match for bin Laden.
The second flaw is the clincher. As a trial lawyer, Edwards wants to lead an epic struggle—a “fight” for the right against special interests. That message resonates with a few Democrats, who are righteously angry at Dubya, Cheney, Gingrich, Army, DeLay et al. and their snake-oil factory.
But that song is out of tune with the times. After seven years of Dubya’s 50.1% government, the nation wants unity, not division. Voters are fed up with internal bickering and government’s failure to accomplish anything. They don’t want a “fight;” they want results.
Obama, not Edwards, carries the banner of unity. That’s been clear since Obama’s keynote speech in 2004. That’s why only he can win the general election.
The final truth is that Edwards supporters are potential Obama supporters. Edwards himself acknowledged as much on Charlie Rose last night. The reason, he said, is that only he and Obama offer real change. When Edwards bows out, his supporters will surge to Obama, who will overtake Clinton decisively.
That’s not all. In retiring from the fray, Edwards is likely to endorse Obama. It’s not clear whether Edwards dislikes Hillary personally. But his dislike for her policies and her politics as usual grows visibly every day. And her campaign’s hauteur—not to mention her refusing to shake hands before debates—must be personally galling to a man like him, who is polite to a fault and who rose from humble origins.
Edwards is nothing if not a man of principle. He won’t allow a single potential vote for him to slip to Hillary if he can avoid it.
So watch Edwards carefully. Although he can’t win himself, he has the power to pick the Democratic nominee. His supporters will pick Obama. When they do, the race for the Democratic nomination will all be over but the shouting. Then the real campaign will begin.