Biden Speculation

CHATTANOOGA, TN - AUGUST 15:  U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a memorial service to honor those killed In Chattanooga
CHATTANOOGA, TN - AUGUST 15: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a memorial service to honor those killed In Chattanooga shooting at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's McKenzie Arena on August 15, 2015 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The military is putting on the ceremony to honor the sailor and four Marines killed and to say thank you to the men and women who helped responded when Mohammad Abdulazeez shot up a military recruitment center and a Navy operations support center before being killed by law enforcement, (Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images)

Vice President Joe Biden certainly has got the media talking. All it really took was one leak to Maureen Dowd and a meeting with Senator Elizabeth Warren, and the recurring story in the media is now: "Biden's son Beau made a deathbed plea to his father to run for president again, and he's now seriously considering it." That's a compelling political narrative, to be sure. The Wall Street Journal is even reporting that Biden's now leaning towards running. Now, I have no inside sources of my own, so I have no idea what's really going on in Biden's head, but no matter how likely it turns out to be, a Biden candidacy bears political examination beyond the simple question of: "Will he or won't he run?"

Joe Biden's political personality is that of an "average Joe." He's even got the first name to match! And without even announcing a candidacy, for months now he's had the best bumpersticker of the 2016 presidential season: "I'm Ridin' With Biden!"

OK, that's it for the Biden humor, I promise -- because the concept of a Biden campaign should indeed be taken seriously. Joe Biden would (if he runs) obviously try to position himself firmly between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The other three Democrats running have generated no interest whatsoever among the Democratic electorate, and can thus be ignored for the time being. Biden's entry would instantly create a three-way contest with Sanders and Clinton. But would this triangulation be enough to win him the nomination?

Biden would present himself (without ever explicitly saying so) as the safe alternative should Clinton stumble. If Hillary's polling falls off a cliff, Biden will be there to welcome ex-Hillary supporters in. Now, Clinton hasn't exactly had a great summer out on the campaign trail, but rumors of her demise are entirely premature. The media loves to point out how high her negative ratings are on questions of "trustworthiness" or "likeability," but they almost always fail to point out that virtually all of the Republican candidates also score very badly on these scales as well -- worse than Hillary, in many cases. They also are reporting on "trustworthiness" and "likeability" because Hillary's actual "will you vote for her as the Democratic nominee" numbers are still pretty sky-high (twice as good as Trump's are with Republicans, for comparison). To put this another way, portions of the Democratic electorate might not like her personally or even trust her very far, but they're still going to vote for her. When Biden's name is included on Democratic polls, he has been scoring around 10 percent (sometimes a few points higher, sometimes lower), but Hillary still pulls in a majority or better in most polls.

Of course, that could all change at any time. The drip-drip-drip of "emailgate" assures that the story will be in front of the public for many months to come. Hillary's numbers have gone down a bit (although nowhere near as bad as some are saying), and that slow trend could continue. Biden would represent a "Plan B" for a lot of voters, should Hillary's problems and scandals wind up having too much impact on her campaign.

Biden always emphasizes his Scranton roots when campaigning and that'll be even easier this year, since Bernie Sanders is already having a lot of success talking about middle-class issues. Biden is seen as pretty progressive already, at least by some. He bolstered his progressive credentials by taking his first meeting about a possible run with none other than progressive champion Elizabeth Warren -- an obvious sign of what might be his campaign priorities. His political history in Delaware (a leading state in the corporate and banking worlds, due to their unique state laws) might not bear too close an examination by committed progressives, but even so he would probably be seen as less friendly to corporations and Wall Street than Hillary Clinton.

Of course, he's never going to out-progressive Bernie Sanders. He won't even try. Instead he'll be looking to entice possible Sanders supporters by being "more electable" than Bernie. He could only really do this, however, if his polling numbers get better than Bernie's. "Don't vote for a lost cause -- vote for someone who can win!" will be the message, although probably not stated that baldly. On the other side, Biden's message would be: "Hillary Clinton is not inevitable!"

If Donald Trump is the drunk uncle you have to put up with at Thanksgiving dinner, Joe Biden is the opposite -- the favorite uncle who always has time to hang out and crack a few jokes. This has gotten him into trouble at times, when he says things that need a little revision (or an apology) later on. But in the 2016 presidential race, somehow I don't see "Biden gaffes" as being all that big a story. Even on his worst day, Biden is nowhere near the gaffe-creation machine that is Donald Trump, after all. With Trump in the race, it almost nullifies any gaffe Biden might make on the campaign trail. And "speaking like a regular guy and not a politician" seems to already be Trump's theme, so Biden's regular-guy mojo would be seen as a much safer alternative to some.

The caricature of Biden as a lightweight that late-night comics love to joke about isn't the reality. Biden is a serious guy with oodles of foreign policy experience. If Obama had listened to Biden a long time ago and supported dividing Iraq into three separate entities (Sunni, Shi'ite, and Kurd), the situation on the ground there might be very different indeed these days (it might be better, it might be worse, but it certainly would be different). Biden is eminently qualified to be president, seeing as how he's spent the last six-and-a-half years being a heartbeat away from the Oval Office. America has already decided he's qualified, to put it slightly differently, since they elected him twice to take over if anything bad ever happened to President Obama.

Biden's entry certainly would shake up the Democratic race, but then maybe that's a good thing for Democrats in general. Hillary Clinton wouldn't have the luxury of ignoring Biden (the way she currently is ignoring Bernie Sanders and the rest of the Democratic field). Biden would force Clinton to run a much more competitive campaign, which might wind up being a good thing even if Hillary becomes the eventual nominee. She'll be in top form when the general election campaign starts, if she has to run a close race with Sanders and Biden. It would certainly sharpen her up to have Biden in the race.

Assessing Biden's chances for actually becoming the Democratic nominee is impossible without knowing what's going to happen to Hillary Clinton. Will the scandals eventually catch up with her and tank her standing among Democratic voters? That has not happened yet, but it certainly could. If Hillary imploded, Biden's chances would obviously get a lot better. Democrats who support Hillary -- and who find Bernie Sanders too far out -- would likely flock to support Joe Biden if Hillary did self-destruct at any point. However, if Hillary bounces back and lays the scandal talk to rest, then it would be a very different race. Biden would also have the headwind of being another "old white guy" trying to be president, made more acute by the fact that either Sanders or Clinton would be a "first" (either the first Jewish president or the first woman president). Biden does draw some fervent support among a certain segment of the Democratic electorate, but Clinton would still have a lot of daunting advantages (in money, in campaign staff, and in voter support). A head-to-head race between Biden and Clinton would be tough (but not impossible) for Biden to win.

Joe Biden has let it be known that he'll make his decision by the end of next month. That's a lot of time in the political world, so anything could happen between now and then. Biden already sees enough of a path to victory to seriously contemplate the idea of running for a third time. Due to his age, this is probably the last chance he'll ever have. If he does run, he'll certainly liven up the Democratic race, which up until now has been a contest between only two viable candidates. Biden would instantly vault into this contest, giving Democratic primary voters three realistic choices instead of the current two. Biden could beat Hillary Clinton even if she doesn't implode, but if she does his path to victory would get a whole lot easier. Even if Biden runs and loses, he'll definitely sharpen up whichever candidate beats him for the nomination. All this might be enough for him to make the effort.

 

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2016 election, Elizabeth Warren, emailgate, foreign policy, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Maureen Dowd, barack obama, 2016 primary, joe biden 2016, Hillary clinton 2016, joe biden campaign