Campaigns/Elections

Those Who Can't, Endorse

Losers don't move voters while in the race, so why expect them to now?

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Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani withdraws from the presidential race and endorses Sen. John McCain. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards suspends his campaign and endorses no one. Is there a difference? Not really.

The least surprising move of the season is Rudy's backing of McCain. Both ran as quirky, prickly "moderate" alternatives to lock-step conservatism. In fact, McCain is essentially advancing on the Giuliani strategy of watching the conservative base split itself among multiple candidates while locking down everyone else. But a vague strategic nod is all Rudy adds to the McCain effort—that and a brief momentum bump on the endorsement itself.

Voters at this late date—both historically and in this election cycle—are not looking for top-down direction on where to take their support. Their minds are not blank slates or devoid of information on the remaining candidates. As George Bush's evil political genius Karl Rove put it in a recent Wall Street Journal column:

Voters are discounting advertising. They may be blocking out ads, relying more on personal exposure, information from social networks, alternative information sources like talk radio and the Internet, and local media coverage. … It is the age of the Internet, cable TV, YouTube, multiple news cycles in one day, and the need for really instantaneous response.

In other words, an endorsement from a failing candidate might not even rate as a prominent news story, let alone linger in the public forebrain days later. Neither the testimonial—one of the oldest forms of politica advertising—nor the photo op will, by themselves, move votes.

So if the endorsees don't gain from the failed candidate endorsement game, why do we still pay attention to it? Tradition, for one. The endorsers obviously can score a few brownie points for future use, like landing a federal job. In Giuliani's case, it is entirely plausible to imagine him as McCain's Homeland Security czar. But Rudy in the DC fishbowl seems a poor fit, especially considering that Giuliani is not looking to work that hard. It seems more likely that he will retire to Manhattan with his cadre of longtime yes-men to continue overcharging corporate America for speeches and advice.

Meanwhile, Edwards has been floated as a possible attorney general in an Obama administration, quite likely the earliest and worst cabinet trial balloon in American history. Even disasters like Janet Reno and Alberto Gonzales looked to be better fits for the top job at Main Justice, with both having previously served as government lawyers before. Edwards might wind up trying to sue China for lead paint on toys or conducting FBI stings on businesses with wet floors.

That's why a better place for Edwards' One America crusade might be the Labor Department, where he could team up with labor unions in working towards the $9.50 minimum wage he says America needs.

This is not completely crazy. By suspending and not shuttering his campaign, Edwards can string along both the Obama and Clinton camps right through the convention. He keeps his delegates and superdelegates, and should that knee-buckling, full-body orgasm of the poli-junkie—the Brokered Convention—actually come to pass, Edwards could name his price.

Motivation also figures into this scenario; Edwards needs somewhere to land. He cannot go back to North Carolina and run statewide again. Too many people are burned out on him and a newer, fresher crop of candidates is already active in the Tar Heel state. A once-duped University of North Carolina is not going to put him up in a "poverty center" for another four years, either. Electorally, Edwards best bet might be to hope that Rep. David Price (D) resigns soon, opening up a run in the liberal Research Triangle area. But voters are not exactly pining for him there either.

Nor will voters miss John or Rudy on Super Tuesday. Neither was going to win a single state had they stayed in the race. And now that they are gone, few going to the polls will even notice their absence.

Jeff Taylor writes from North Carolina.