Come on, admit it — you thought this came from Hillary Clinton. Well, perhaps it still might, but no. This comes from the other two-time presidential loser in the Democratic pantheon, former Vice President Joe Biden. Until now, most of the talk about Biden has been from others speculating on his intentions. This time, the Associated Press reported yesterday, it’s coming from the man himself:
Former Vice President Joe Biden is tiptoeing toward a potential presidential run in 2020, even broaching the possibility during a recent gathering of longtime foreign policy aides.
Huddled in his newly opened office steps from the U.S. Capitol, Biden began a planning meeting for his new diplomacy center by addressing the elephant in the room. He said he was keeping his 2020 options open, considering it a real possibility. He insisted he had made no decision, and didn’t need to yet, according to five people who either attended the meeting or were briefed on it by those who did.
Biden also expressed interest in bringing those in the room onto his team if he decides to launch a campaign. At the same time, he gave them an out: There would be no hard feelings if they decided they were content in their current roles outside of government, said the people, who demanded anonymity to discuss a private meeting.
Biden gets a lot of press for these musings for three main reasons. First, many believe he would have won the 2016 nomination had he run as a continuation of Barack Obama’s work, and might have beaten Trump in a general election. Biden wouldn’t have taken Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin for granted, for instance, and still knows how to talk to those voters. Second, the reason for Biden’s demurral — the recent death of his son Beau — generates deserved and understandable sympathy. And third, Biden may be the only person on the national stage that can gather a fusion of the Democratic constituencies in the progressive and working-class wings of the party.
This report suggests that Biden’s starting to buy those same three reasons. As the AP notes, he’s beginning to eclipse Hillary Clinton as a Trump naysayer. He’s also organizing for the midterms, a key signal of seriousness. So is Hillary, but unlike her, no one’s telling Biden’s spouse to stay home. At 76, Biden’s not campaigning and fundraising for congressional candidates out of the goodness of his heart or sheer boredom. He’s testing the waters.
However capable Biden may have been in 2016 had he run, though, a 2020 run seems like a foolish idea, and not just because it might turn into a gaffe contest. Biden will be 78 in 2020, while Trump will be 74 and an incumbent. Biden may talk better to the hinterlands than Hillary did, but by 2020 he will have spent nearly 50 years in Washington — hardly the kind of man to lead a populist party or to win populist hearts. The time for VPs to run as continuation candidates is limited to the cycle following their term in office. By 2020, Obama will be old news. Ask Hillary how well the Clinton Restoration project ran in 2008 and 2016, for instance. Nostalgia makes for good pop culture, not politics.
Besides, Democrats will have the opposite problem they faced in 2015-16, when Hillary locked out almost all other serious candidates from the primaries, including Biden. They have more depth at the presidential bench, although almost all of it comes from the Senate, with serious candidates more than twenty years younger than Biden or Trump. Biden is a Democrat of the past; the party will want to look to its future, especially given how badly their last look to the past did in 2016.
Biden had a window. He missed it. Unless Democrats are really desperate, of course. And if they bomb in the midterms, they just might be.