A populist to whom the people are indifferent is a melancholy spectacle, and John Edwards won just 4 percent in Nevada, where his courtship of unions was supposed to elevate him to the top of the class struggle's barricades. He has competed in three states (Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada) and lost them by increasing margins. Someone should tell him the joke that another populist, William Jennings Bryan, told on himself after losing three presidential elections (1896, 1900 and 1908) as the Democrats' nominee:
A man tried three times to enter a saloon and three times was tossed out. After the third time he dusted himself off and said, "I'm beginning to think those fellows don't want me in there."
Edwards, who probably will finish a distant third in South Carolina this Saturday, where he won in 2004, soon will run the risk of having the dreaded S-word affixed to him: Harold Stassen's persistence in seeking the presidency rendered him ridiculous. Edwards might consider supporting Obama, who Edwards has identified as a candidate of "change," against Clinton, who Edwards says is a candidate of "the status quo." Edwards' departure from the contest could, however, serve Clinton by freeing up some white male voters who might then support her.
Thompson has left the race and now can continue to support John McCain. In New Hampshire, Thompson attacked McCain's principal problem there, Mitt Romney. In South Carolina, Thompson's attack on Huckabee as a "liberal" might have provided McCain's margin of victory.
Huckabee is a niche candidate who has run out of niches. Perhaps more than any other two states, Iowa and South Carolina were suited to him because of their large numbers of evangelical Christians. But in each he finished fourth among nonevangelical participants in the Republican nominating process. Having no message that resonates broadly, and little money with which to broadcast it, he is in a political cul-de-sac.
So far, Romney has won the most Republican votes and delegates, but Rudy Giuliani could bolt to the front in both categories on Feb. 5. Most of those contests are open only to Republicans, and based on January's evidence, that is good for Romney and ominous for McCain. At the moment, however, it remains possible, perhaps even probable, that each party will offer its oldest and most familiar candidate, Clinton and McCain, to a nation clamoring for a rupture with the recent past.