As the drip, drip, drip of the Clinton private email server scandal continues, and Bernie Sanders climbs in the polls and attract thousands to his rallies, it has become very difficult to come up with solid reasons why Vice President Joe Biden should not jump into this very fluid race.
(At the outset, readers should know that I worked for the Vice President from 1996-98 as an aide on the Senate Judiciary Committee. But I have had virtually no contact with him since then.)
When 2015 began, it was easy to answer this question: Hillary Clinton had an unassailable path to the nomination. And she had earned it. Her resume makes her among the most qualified people to have ever sought the presidency. She ran a noble campaign for the nomination in 2008, garnering 18 million Democratic votes. She knows the issues and is a determined fighter. And it is high time we had a woman president.
Running against Clinton would have made no sense, even for a sitting vice president.
But Clinton's performance in 2015 has made many Democrats remember why they were so happy to have Obama to vote for back in 2008.
The most disappointing aspect of Clinton's decline is that it results entirely from self-inflicted wounds. The notion that a sitting Secretary of State would use a private email server for her official duties is so preposterous that it really calls into question Clinton's wisdom and sense of judgment. Any junior lawyer at the State Department should have been able to tell her that this bizarre, unprecedented concept was so fraught with legal peril that it should have been discarded immediately. (By the way, where were the State Department lawyers on this? And did they give Clinton legal advice that she ignored?)
The reasons for this are clear. By definition, virtually everything the secretary of state writes in private about U.S. foreign policy and national security is potentially classified information. That information was vulnerable enough on the government's leaky servers in the State Department without letting it sit on a private server. Second, taking these records outside of the normal process at the State Department made compliance with the Freedom of Information Act and congressional information requests almost impossible.
The second self-inflicted wound was Clinton's decision in 2013 to deeply enmesh herself in her husband's foundation. Clinton should have known after the conflicts-of-interest issues that arose when she was appointed to be secretary of state that becoming a named leader of the Clinton Foundation would raise a myriad of problems for her if she ran for president. It does not matter that the Clinton Foundation does wonderful work around the globe. Clinton should have foreseen the ethical and political landmines on the horizon and stayed far away from the quagmire.
It is possible that neither of these matters will cause a mortal blow to the Clinton campaign. But the problem is that they resurrect the Clinton fatigue factor that overshadows her candidacy. Clinton deserved a chance to hit the reset button - an opportunity to convince voters that her presidency would be more "hope and change" than scandal and tawdriness. But email-gate and the Clinton Foundation conflicts-of-interest sliminess makes the reset impossible. Democrats are already exhausted just thinking about years of defending future Clinton ethical missteps, lapses in judgment, rule breaking, and the like.
With the Clinton campaign teetering, and the potential for worse down the road - the "Why Not Joe?" question has new relevance.
As a sitting Vice President, former head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a six-term former senator - he is undoubtedly qualified. And Biden is the person that Barack Obama decided on two occasions was ready to be president if he could no longer serve.
On the issues, it is hard to see how his views will be much different from Clinton's. Democrats are more unified on policy issues now (except on trade) than they have been in decades. A Biden/Clinton contest would be more about who can win and who can lead than it would be about policy.
If this election is going to be about who connects the best with economically frustrated voters, Biden might have the advantage. He is a lunch bucket guy who never gave a one-hour speech for $250,000. He rode the Amtrak to Delaware every night to be with his family instead of partaking in the inside-the-Beltway culture.
The idea that Biden is a gaffe-prone subject of late night jokes is, itself, a joke. Let's not forget who crushed Paul Ryan in the 2012 debate, when Democrats were on the ropes after Obama whiffed during his first debate with Mitt Romney. And the Trump-Sanders summer boom shows that the public is ready for some straight talk. Anyone that thinks Biden can't connect with real people or somehow lacks the fortitude to be president should take a look at his speech to Yale undergrads two weeks before his son passed away
Biden's biggest liability is his age - 72 now, 74 in January, 2017. But that's a problem for every Democratic contender - Clinton is 67, Sanders is 73. Democrats have a big generational disconnect between their leaders and constituency. Perhaps a one-term Biden presidency while some young successors are groomed is the best path forward (lest the Democrats become the T.O.P. (Tired Old Party)).
This is not endorsement. Let's see what the campaign looks like six-months from now.
But I can't come up with any good reason why Biden should sit this race out.
David H. Schanzer is an Associate Professor of the Practice at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.