Far be it from me to advise John Edwards on anything, but it seems to me that if he’d like to retain even a smidgen of credibility (if he has that much right now) he has to endorse Obama. The news that he is seriously considering a Clinton endorsement is remarkable and politically foolish. This would be the equivalent of Romney endorsing Huckabee, and it would be met with the same shocked disbelief and laughter. Only yesterday he was saying how unacceptable Clinton was as a “change” agent and all the rest of it, and then he is going to turn around and affirm that she is the best candidate? No one will believe it, and the last several years he has spent building up his new progressive persona would be ruined instantly, and his admirers in the netroots and elsewhere would ridicule him. Likewise, Romney couldn’t back Huckabee even if Huckabee had a chance of winning–he would not just make a mockery of all the criticisms he leveled during the campaign, but he would horrify and stun the movement figures who had started to embrace him as one of their own.
In the dynamic of the three-way race, Edwards and Obama were natural allies and their respective bands of supporters perceived them as such. Edwards was the former centrist doing his best progressive imitation, and in the process compelled everyone, including the actual progressive, Obama, to tack left. The two of them clearly represented the challenge to Clinton from the left. It is probably true that Clinton needs Edwards’ endorsement more than Obama does, but Edwards needs to back a winner and right now that isn’t looking like Clinton, despite her formidable advantages in several of the March 4 states. Edwards cannot bring his voters over to Clinton simply by the fact of his endorsement (and many of them may have gravitated to her already)–the endorsement has to make sense, and from where I’m standing it makes no sense at all.
He could simply wait, as I assume Romney is going to wait, until the nomination is sewn up and then declare his full support for the party’s candidate. No one could fault him for that, and he would probably even win some plaudits for not having tried to block either candidate. He misses his chance to be a “kingmaker,” but he has to be suffering from excess pride if he thinks that he is in the position to be a kingmaker. On the other hand, if he endorses and it has a lamentable Gore effect on the endorsed candidate, not only will he have diminished his perceived influence on the Democratic race but might even be blamed for hurting his preferred candidate. Best to lay low.