Six months ago, it seemed almost unthinkable. But Sen. Clinton finally has bowed to the pressure, and has chosen to step off, allowing the Dems to align behind Sen. Obama.
This is genuinely surprising for a couple of reasons, but chief among them (with all due respect to The Chairman, a card-carrying member of the HRC Fanclub) is how sure I was that the Clintons' self-interest couldn't possibly be overcome by their sense of loyalty to their party. I was almost certain that, prodded by the likes of James Carville, Ed Rendell and Bill himself, HRC would take the fight to the convention floor in Denver in August. I expected finger-pointing, bribes, rampant corruption and egregious misconduct by both sides as the party destroyed itself. But to her credit, HRC read the writing on the wall, realized that scrapping much longer might damage the party, stepped aside, and as a result, the Dems likely will be a mostly unified party come convention time.
This isn't to say the HRC watch is over. Her main objective clearly is to win the presidency, and as she turns 60 in October, likely has two more election cycles to do it. However, it's clear that an Obama victory in November makes a 2012 run unlikely, as it is extraordinarily difficult to unseat even an unpopular incumbent (see: Kerry-Heinz, John).
As a result, HRC faces an interesting dilemma: on one hand, she could throw her support behind Obama, raise money for and make appearances with him, and encourage her supporters (many of whom fall under the "Reagan Democrat" banner and who have a deep distrust of the High Priest of Hyde Park) to pull the lever for him in November. If she does this and helps heal the party's wounds, Obama would be the 44th president. Second, however, HRC could concede the nomination and quietly slip away, letting the Changemaker go it alone as he seeks to unify what currently is a party fractured in a number of different ways.
By conceding now, HRC has minimized the potentially irreparable damage that the party might have sustained as a result of a protracted fight that spilled over into Denver in August. She also minimizes the backlash that has been brewing against she and Bill that could have enormous repercussions if the contest became any more nasty. In a few weeks, the latte liberals backing the Pope of Hope will have forgotten the nastiness of the contest.
As a McCain backer, I'm disappointed that HRC stepped aside, as I hoped she and Bill would be out for blood. But I am equally intrigued to see what kind of role she plays from now 'til November. Is her self-interest in getting back to the White House stronger than her loyalty to the Democratic Party?
I think so. That's why I think the McCain/Obama fight will be much closer than what it should be.