You think John Edwards had problems with women? They were nothing compared to his problems with his own campaign staff.
George Stephanopoulos revealed on "This Week" Sunday that several members of Edwards' presidential campaign staff believed early on that Edwards was having an affair and decided to wreck his campaign if it looked like he was going to win the nomination.
"Several of them got together and basically said, if it looks like he is going to win, we're going to sabotage the campaign, we're going to blow it up," Stephanopoulos said.
This is extraordinary on any number of levels.
First, the sabotage staffers were being no more moral than Edwards. If they were really shocked and appalled by the rumors of his affair, they could have confronted him and demanded that he withdraw from the race or that he reveal the truth to the voters.
Instead, they decided to cash their paychecks week after week and plot their candidate's destruction behind his back. How ethically superior of them! How very, very high road of them!
Second, many Edwards staffers were doing such a crappy job anyway, they didn't need to do anything special to sabotage his campaign. Edwards came in second in Iowa, third in New Hampshire, third in Nevada, third in his home state of South Carolina and fourth in Florida, after which he dropped out.
Third, just how were the staffers going to "sabotage" Edwards? By revealing the affair to the media themselves? I doubt it. The National Enquirer and the blogosphere had been reporting the rumors for months. The mainstream media wanted some proof before they went with the story. Sure, the sabo-staffers could have made big news if they had gone public with their suspicions. But none had the guts for that.
Which means their planned sabotage had to be something else. But what? Hiding Edwards' Rogaine? Getting him to switch his bedrock campaign message from being a champion of the poor to being a champion of the middle class, thereby making himself indistinguishable from the other Democrats in the race? (Oh, wait, they did that.)
At this point, we don't know their plans. But I do know this: If the names of the sabo-staffers ever leak out, they will be as finished in politics as John Edwards. When it comes to hiring staff, most politicians value loyalty above all other qualities, including actual skills (a problem Hillary Clinton ran into), and nobody is going to hire a staffer who says: "I will work very hard for you until I think you are doing something wrong and then I will secretly work to destroy you. And, by the way, I'd like a corner office."
Fourth, we are being asked to believe by these sabo-staffers who are now intent on making themselves look better than their candidate that they actually were shocked by rumors that John Edwards was fooling around and believed that such behavior would put the nation in peril if Edwards got the Democratic nomination.
But why would they think that? Bill Clinton fooled around like crazy, nobody found out until he was elected twice, and he turned out to be a good president. Sure, he hit that little impeachment speed bump after he got caught and lied about it in 1998. You know what lesson political insiders take from that? Don't get caught.
But what if Edwards had gotten caught early on? What if he had gotten caught before the Iowa caucus in January 2008? Howard Wolfson, Hillary Clinton's former communications director, thinks he knows what would have happened.
"I believe we would have won Iowa, and Clinton today would therefore have been the nominee," Wolfson told Brian Ross and Jake Tapper of ABC News shortly after Edwards admitted on Aug. 8, 2008, that he had had an affair.
"Our voters and Edwards' voters were the same people," Wolfson said and claimed that internal polling showed that "maybe two-thirds" of those who voted for Edwards in the Iowa caucus would have voted for Clinton, thereby giving her a victory over Barack Obama.
There is only one thing wrong with Wolfson's theory: It's probably not true. First, Edwards voters and Clinton voters were not the same people. Edwards voters in Iowa admired Edwards for saying that his vote on the Iraq war was "wrong," and they hated Clinton for refusing to say that.
Second, David Redlawsk, a University of Iowa political science professor (who also became an Edwards delegate) conducted a survey on caucus night and found that of Edwards voters who said they would vote for someone other than Edwards if they had to, 51 percent favored Obama and 32 percent favored Clinton. In other words, if Edwards had been driven out of the race by scandal, Obama's margin of victory in Iowa probably would have been even bigger than it was.
We can't know that for certain, of course. The withdrawal of Edwards could have altered the political universe in ways that were not predictable. But Wolfson also told Ross and Tapper that the Clinton campaign was aware of the rumors of Edwards affair but did not push the media to pursue them. "Any of the campaigns that would have tried to push that would have been burned by it," Wolfson said.
Marc Ambinder, an associate editor of The Atlantic, has a different recollection. He wrote Sunday that "plenty of aides to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton" believed Edwards was having an affair and "that associates of the Clintons were very aggressive, in particular, about making sure that reporters didn't give up the chase."
But the chase, such as it was, went nowhere. Edwards stayed in the race and was driven out by a lack of voter interest and not staff sabotage.
Which is too bad. I would like to have seen what he looks like without Rogaine.