The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that sometime next Wednesday, Joe Lieberman is going to stand in front of the cameras, trying to smile a little, and announce that he’s not going to run in the general election after all.
There are a lot of reasons for it, but here are some:
1. He doesn’t have the heart for it. This whole Lamont campaign has left Lieberman feeling sad and betrayed, hurt deeply by his Democratic friends who abandoned him. That kind of thing can make you mad and itching for revenge, or it can take the spirit right of you. From what I saw of the senator yesterday, I don’t think he has that fighting spirit anymore.
2. What does he gain, really? If he runs, he faces a tough campaign that may see him rejected not just by activist Democrats but by his entire state. It’s clear that Lieberman could win a general election, but it’s also clear that it won’t be easy and it may not happen. He doesn’t want to lose again in a way that would serve as a more general repudiation.
3. His campaign is in disarray. It doesn’t communicate with its supporters in the field. It doesn’t go where it should, say what it should or do what it should. It’s a total mess, as anyone in politics can tell you. Fixing that would be hard, bitter work. Lieberman’s not ready to be that hard on his friends and allies. He’s grown soft — and he’s just too nice a guy.
4. If he’s out of the Senate in January, he could take his bipartisanship into the Bush administration itself and become Rumsfeld’s successor, Cheney’s successor or some other high-ranking muckymuck. He can do that if he loses the primary. He probably can’t if he loses the general election.
5. His odds of being vice president seem stronger if he’s not in the Senate anymore than if he is. If I were John McCain, I’d give serious thought to putting Lieberman on my ticket as my running mate in some kind of national unity ticket promising to reform the partisan bickering in Washington. It would be a hard ticket for the Democrats to beat.
6. Lieberman has probably already reached the pinnacle of his political career — as Al Gore’s running mate — and his influence is certainly diminished from its height. Winning back his seat in a tough race that requires him to lash out at the Democratic candidate (Lamont) is unlikely to help him achieve more prominence or power. In fact, it will leave him even more of a back bencher after losing his own party’s primary, even if he wins in November. There’s a lot to be said for moving on.
7. Lieberman is not an overly wealthy man. He’s done okay, but he might just decide, especially after watching what millions of dollars can do for a candidate, to go out and try to rake in some real money. I don’t think money turns him on, but most everybody can see the allure of having more, and he might just decide the time has come to earn a few dollars. Another six years in the Senate won’t help him do it.
8. There’s something about losing that concentrates the mind. I think he already has big doubts about filing as a third party candidate — which seems like such a Lowell Weicker thing to do — and I just don’t believe he’ll wake up next Wednesday with the thought in his head that what he wants to do is file petitions so he can run in a brutal, ugly campaign against his own party’s chosen candidate.
Now, of course, chances are that I’m wrong. But there are a lot more reasons to doubt he’ll run than the conventional wisdom of the moment recognizes.