CBS News senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield notes that the timing of the scandal makes that unlikely – Edwards admitted the affair back in August of 2008, before the election, and the admission would have done serious damage to the candidate had he still been in the race.
"Had he been nominated, he either would have been forced off the ticket or would have staggered to November," said Greenfield. "Either way, I think, Democrats would have lost."
Still, had Edwards somehow overcome the scandal and won the presidency, it's interesting to think about the potential fallout from today's admission. Edwards consistently and adamantly claimed that he was not the child's father, even going so far as to invite a paternity test. That, we now know, was a lie. Edwards said in his statement that "it was wrong for me ever to deny she was my daughter and hopefully one day, when she understands, she will forgive me."
Greenfield suggests Edwards would likely have been forced to resign the presidency over the admission. He adds that he would only be impeached, however, if campaign finance laws had been broken.
That may well have happened: Hunter's firm was paid more than $100,000 in connection with her work on the Edwards campaign, including about $14,000 that may have been attributed to a "furniture purchase." But it is not clear that Edwards technically broke the law.
As for the continuing interest in Edwards himself, CBS News Chief Political Consultant Marc Ambinder says that the reason the story "transcends the scandal press, and the reason why it remains so fascinating, is because there was a good chance – not a great chance, but a good chance, that this man could have been elected president."
"A man who lied to his staff, who was self-deluded, who had an unbelievable ego, who was reckless," says Ambinder. "Character matters; interpersonal conflict drives politics, but to anyone who blames the media for being too intrusive, all one needs to do is look back at the failure of the legitimate press to cover the rumors. And I can tell you – these rumors – we heard them."
Asked about an Edwards presidency, Ambinder compares Edwards to Bill Clinton, who was able to overcome at least one affair of his own.
"Bill Clinton was able to mostly compartmentalize his sexual indiscretions," he says. "Given the evidence we have, Edwards was much more openly reckless, and his ability to separate his personal pathologies from his professional responsibilities is questionable."
An interesting side note: Ambinder reports that Edwards' requestion to go to Haiti to help with relief efforts was "met with silence" by the White House, though Edwards went to the country anyway.
Edwards: I Fathered Child out of Wedlock
John Edwards' Statement
John Edwards Goes to Haiti, White House Silent