Commentary Magazine


The Weak, Silent Type

With the Texas and Ohio primaries now upon us, the painfully uninteresting Bill Richardson Endorsement Watch can officially come to close. Indeed, despite doing nothing newsworthy since ending his presidential bid–other than growing a beard that evokes a chad-hung Al Gore–Richardson has regularly appeared in the news media, announcing that he is not ready to support either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. His most recent declaration of non-endorsement came Sunday, when he told the Associated Press that he was “on the fence,” adding, “I may wake up tomorrow and do it. Then I may not.”

For Richardson, this sudden neutrality stands in stark contrast with his not-so-subtle backing for Clinton during a number of the debates. For example, when the other Democratic candidates accused Clinton of lacking foreign policy experience during an October debate in Philadelphia, Richardson rose to her defense, saying, “I’m hearing this holier-than-thou attitude toward Senator Clinton. That is bothering me because it’s pretty close to personal attacks that we don’t need.” Meanwhile, during a January debate in New Hampshire, Richardson reproached Obama for berating Clinton, firmly saying, “this is the kind of Washington bickering that the public turns off to.” Indeed, as satirized by Saturday Night Live, it appeared as though Richardson was aiming to be Clinton’s running mate.

Yet despite Richardson’s very public waffling after months of positioning himself as Clinton’s partner, the media has continued promoting Richardson as a strong vice-presidential candidate. Nicholas Kristof has noted that Richardson would secure the Hispanic vote, while The Detroit Free Press has written that Richardson would “help fill Obama’s lack-of-experience vacuum.” Meanwhile, Richardson’s name has appeared prominently in virtually every article listing possible vice-presidential candidates-a blitz aided by Richardson’s own acknowledgement that he is “open” to the idea.

Still, Clinton and Obama would be foolish to invite him on their campaign trails. For starters-particularly given his support for Hillary during his final months as a weak presidential candidate-Richardson’s wavering smacks of disingenuity.

But even if we can forgive Richardson for rethinking his support for Clinton in light of Obama’s eleven consecutive primary victories since Super Tuesday, his failure to endorse either Clinton or Obama suggests a disturbing inability to make key strategic decisions. This makes him a serious liability to any Democratic ticket. After all, the eventual nominee will face John McCain, who fairly argues that he risked his political career in supporting the surge in Iraq-a testament to his decision-making and leadership qualities that are the best arguments for his candidacy.