But what makes this story interesting and potentially more important to me is why Edwards entered the presidential race when it now seems clear that he couldn't keep this enormous scandal out of the press. People thought the documentary story was fishy almost from the start, and when his campaign pulled all mention of it, alarm bells went off in newsrooms. From that point on a number of journalists were pretty sure there had been an affair and were actively trying to prove it. Edwards must have known that if nominated as the Democratic candidate he could be exposed and lose the election. He put himself forward when his candidacy could have doomed his party to lose the presidency. Edwards has admitted to narcissism in having the affair, but the scary narcissism is that he ran for Democratic nominee given the powder keg he was sitting on.
I can't believe that narcissism is a complete explanation for why Edwards ran for president. Edwards did two main things in the primaries: he used his high profile as a top-three contender to (1) put forth an anti-poverty agenda and (2) attack Hillary Clinton.
The anti-poverty agenda always struck me as strategic rather than sincere. It gave him a cause that differentiated him from the top two contenders and it allowed him to play up his North Carolina roots, but it was too big a break from his previous policy stance. Just four years before, when Edwards ran for the Democratic presidential nomination and became the vice-presidential nominee, he was much more to the right.
It is unclear why Edwards used his high profile in the primaries to support Barack Obama and trash the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, but there's no question that he did it. During a debate, Edwards made it very clear that Hillary Clinton was one of the "forces of the status quo" when he said, "Everytime [Obama] speaks out for change, everytime I fight for change, the forces of status quo are going to attack. Every single time. And what we have to remember - and this is the overarching issue here, because what we really need in New Hampshire and in future state primaries, is we need an unfiltered debate between the agents of change about how we are going to bring about that change."
I was a Hillary Clinton supporter, and I have never understood how and why she was brought down from solid first place to loser. There were a lot of forces at work, including a sexist culture, but one significant factor was the attacks of John Edwards. This may have been part of a backroom deal to doom her candidacy, or it may have been Edwards playing kingmaker, or he may have just adopted a tactic of knocking off the frontrunner before turning his guns on the next challenger. He didn't seem to want to run for VP again, so his support of Obama doesn't seem to be based on an attempt at a joint ticket. We will probably never know Edwards' motives, but the result was that he was the spoiler in the Democratic primaries.