How desperate will Democrats have to be to turn their lonely eyes to Joe Biden? National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar argues that desperation has begun to be the operative mode as Hillary Clinton seems intent on proving just how disastrous a candidate she is, and as soon as possible. She won’t take positions on policy, she has had more relaunches than SpaceX this year, and she’ll be fortunate to avoid prosecution for the private e-mail server scheme that even MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell acknowledged on-air was intended to obstruct oversight. The alternatives to the presumed frontrunner are an avowed socialist and a former governor who just alienated African-American activists.
Where have you gone, Mr. Vice President?
For Obama supporters, the case for Biden should be an easy one to make: He’s a liberal loyalist for this president who doesn’t shade his views with excessive nuance. With Biden, there wouldn’t be mealy-mouthed hedging. He’d be an unequivocal champion of the president and his agenda. And with Obama’s job approval stabilizing—it’s been within one point of 46 percent in nearly every week this year—there’s a logical, if challenging, path for an unapologetic Obama cheerleader to win the presidency.
First, however, Biden would have to win the nomination, and that’s where things get tricky. From the White House’s perspective, it’s probably not worth provoking a family feud between two candidates claiming the Obama legacy. Indeed, the White House has privately discouraged Biden from running—”nearly every move to expand his political team was blocked by Obama’s sharp-elbowed protectors,” Politico‘s Glenn Thrush wrote in his seminal Biden profile—and publicly offered him no support for another presidential campaign. Clinton’s email scandal would probably have to reach disastrous levels for “no drama” Obama administration officials to panic, and for Biden to consider jumping in the race.
This could end up being one of the administration’s biggest political miscalculations: going all in on Hillary Clinton while neglecting the obvious appeal of the vice president. If voters really want a third term of Obama’s policies, why not back the candidate who unabashedly represents his vision?
Let’s start with the why before we get to the why not. Biden actually would make some sense as a Plan B, if not for a few very glaring problems, because Biden is a much better politician than most of the Democrats in position to run, especially on the stump (again with a couple of glaring caveats). People didn’t pay much attention to his speech in the 2012 Democratic convention, but it was the best of the final night. He connects emotionally in a way that neither Hillary nor Obama do, and speaks to the old blue-collar Democratic coalition that Ronald Reagan successfully fractured in 1980 and 1984. As Kraushaar notes, he’s the only figure in the field who would run on the Obama years, for better or worse. Hillary will have to distance herself from Obama to his Left in the primaries, and then to his Right in the general election, because she’s not a talented enough candidate to differentiate herself in any other way. Anyone else in the field now would run to his Left and keep running.
So yes, this would make sense from that point of view. However, the glaring problems will almost immediately arise, not the least of which is that Biden’s 72 years old now, and would be just shy of his 74th birthday by Election Day next year. The millennials on which Democrats relied for the past two presidential elections will not be excited by the prospect of an old man who’s been in Washington for more than four decades running to replace President Hopenchange. When Biden first came to Washington, All In The Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show topped the TV ratings. At least half of 2016 voters probably don’t even know what those shows are.
Biden might speak to the old Democratic coalition, but he won’t inspire anyone born since Reagan broke it up. Voters, especially younger voters, look to the future in national elections more than the past. After having been disillusioned about Hope and Change over the previous eight years, they won’t go into the voting booth just to vote for a continuity candidate.
On top of that, Biden is, well … Joe Biden. He has a tendency to say very inappropriate and embarrassing things, and a national campaign will afford much more of an opportunity for opponents to grab video of it. Some of that has become charming, but in a “crazy old uncle” way, not in a “let’s give him the nuclear codes” manner. Even that charm will wear down quickly as Republicans remind everyone of Biden’s career, from his plagiarism in the 1988 presidential campaign to his character assassination of Clarence Thomas, right up to Robert Gates’ stinging assessment last year about being “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” Biden looks viable mostly because he’s been out of the firing line for so long.
Nonetheless, Biden might have a better chance than Hillary does at this point in time. That says something about Hillary, though, not about Biden’s prospects. If that’s the Democrats’ Plan B, they have to go back to the drawing board stat.