Joe Biden: Let's face it, I'm the most qualified person in the country to be president

I find it downright adorable that he thinks America in 2018 cares about its presidents being qualified. Who was the last candidate we elected that was obviously qualified to do the job?

That’d be the man lying in state right now in the U.S. Capitol, I believe.

He was, of course, also the last vice president to successfully win higher office. (A weird quirk of history: Al Gore is the only VP since Bush to even try.) And he wasn’t 78 years old on Inauguration Day when he did it, as Biden would be in 2021.

“I’ll be as straight with you as I can. I think I’m the most qualified person in the country to be president,” Biden said at a stop for his book tour in Missoula, Montana. “The issues that we face as a country today are the issues that have been in my wheelhouse, that I’ve worked on my whole life.”

“No one should run for the job unless they believe that they would be qualified doing the job. I’ve been doing this my whole adult life, and the issues that are the most consequential relating to the plight of the middle class and our foreign policy are things that I have – even my critics would acknowledge, I may not be right but I know a great deal about it,” he added.

“I may be a gaffe machine,” he added, “but my God, what a wonderful thing compared to a guy who can’t tell the truth.” Sure sounds like he’s running! If anyone’s bound to beat Trump in a national election, it’s a centrist-y establishmentarian who’s been around Washington since the Stone Age. Right, Hillary fans?

He’s making an interesting bet here, that Democrats will prefer a very qualified nominee in 2020 to a fresh face in trying to counter Trump. There are some liberals who resist that idea, still smarting from Clinton’s defeat and now convinced that the party should find a face so fresh that it’d require looking outside politics to do so. Michael Moore, of all people, has beaten the drum for nominating the most likable mega-celebrity Democrats can manage to recruit, with Oprah and Tom Hanks at the top of his list. Biden is the opposite of a fresh face so naturally he’s starting early in trying to make the primaries a referendum on experience instead, to play to his strengths. And can you fault him? With the exceptions of Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown, each of whom has been in Congress for nearly 30 years, the enormous Democratic field that’s shaping up is notably light on government service. Even Sanders and Brown have spent only 12 years in the Senate compared to Biden’s 36, and of course neither had eight years as vice president. If experience ends up mattering to Democratic primary voters then the race is over before it’s begun.

It’s been a lo-o-o-ng time, though, since Democrats managed to nominate and then successfully elect someone who had extensive experience in Congress. (Long time since Republicans have too, for that matter.) Since LBJ left office 50 years ago, the total number of years spent in Congress by all Democratic presidents is … four. Those came from Obama’s truncated Senate term; Clinton and Carter were governors, of course. But maybe that’s a silly precedent to cite. Until recently, governors were thought of as more likely presidential material than senators were since, after all, their jobs involved executive governance. Obama changed the game somewhat, to Biden’s, Sanders’s, Brown’s etc advantage. In fact, Democrats are so short on qualified governors that Biden needn’t fear any Bill Clinton type bounding into the race and citing his own executive experience. Uncle Joe, by dint of his VP gig, is also the closest thing Dems have to that.

I don’t think experience will end up mattering to most voters, though. The reason Biden leads in early polls is because he’s universally known and no doubt enjoys some goodwill from Obama fans. If he ends up winning, it’ll be those factors plus his perceived ability to connect with working-class whites that does it for him. “Who can win back the Rust Belt by appealing to Trump’s voters?” will be a key question of the primaries, not “Who’s clocked the most hours?” But the former question is harder for Biden to answer since virtually every candidate in the field apart from Mike Bloomberg will be selling him- or herself as a populist, starting with Sanders and Brown. Experience is a way to set himself apart right now — especially if he’s worried about an Obama-esque groundswell for Beto O’Rourke. Biden needs Obama voters. And, like Hillary, he knows what it’s like to have his own campaign swept away by Hopenchange fever for a charismatic newcomer.

Speaking of which, your exit question: Are his comments here a little jab at Hillary? In the unlikely but not impossible event that she runs, “Who’s more qualified?” will become a sticking point between them.

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