1.) The memory of the ill-fated Dean endorsement looms large for him.
2.) (Which is somewhat related to 1.) He's worried about somehow jinxing Obama.
3.) He's enjoying the contrast between himself (statesman-like, above the fray) and Bill Clinton, who's been rooting around in the mud for his wife and damaging his legacy in the process.
To that list, I can't help adding a thought of my own: If, as now seems possible, this race goes to the convention and the convention gets deadlocked, is it so crazy for Gore to imagine himself as either a.) one of the party elders who decides the outcome, or b.) a unifying, white knight candidate in his own right? And, if that's not crazy, shouldn't Gore sit tight for now?
I don’t think Al Gore still wants to be President the way, say, Mitt Romney clearly wants to be President right about now. But I bet some part of him still wants it, and though I hadn’t really contemplated the “brokered convention turns to Gore” scenario, I’d been assuming that his own lingering ambitions are playing some role in his reluctance to endorse Obama. Especially since the Dean endorsement, while it’s remembered as a blunder because the good doctor flamed out, seemed at the time like the work of a canny politician positioning himself for a future run. Howard Dean was never going to be President, whatever ex-Deaniacs claim when they’re deep in their cups, and Gore had to know it. Associating himself with the Dean insurgency was thus a way for him to officially throw his weight behind the anti-war, anti-Bush, and yes, anti-Hillary Clinton camp within the Democratic Party, a move that might have plausibly reaped great dividends had he decided to run for the party’s nomination in ’08.
In the event, he didn’t – and now he has another chance to endorse the anti-war, anti-Clinton candidate. But whereas Dean was doomed to defeat, Obama might just win this thing, and even if he doesn’t he’ll probably be back again in 2012 or 2016 with his halo more or less intact. By endorsing Dean, Gore was blessing a candidate whom he could plausibly regard as little more than a stalking horse for his own ambitions; by endorsing Obama, though, he’s giving his blessing to a man whose star increasingly outshines his own. A world in which Barack Obama becomes President is a world in which Al Gore almost certainly never will, and while I don’t think this consideration matters as much to him as it once might have, I’m sure it’s crossed his mind.
Photo by Flickr user World Resources Institute Staff used under a Creative Commons license.