WSJ: Team Biden "confident" about 2016 prospects

We often treat Joe Biden and his political aspirations with something less than seriousness, but are we dismissing him too casually and too early? According to the Wall Street Journal, the Vice President’s political team believes he can win the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination even if Hillary Clinton jumps into the race, which might surprise … just about everyone who observes politics:

Political allies of Vice President Joe Biden have concluded that he can win the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination—even if Hillary Clinton enters the contest—and are considering steps he could take to prepare for a potential candidacy.

While Mr. Biden has made no decision about his future, people familiar with his thinking say, he hasn’t ruled out a bid for the White House. If he runs, that could set up a titanic battle between two of the party’s most prominent figures.

Biden’s making the usual opening moves of a major candidate:

One step under discussion by Biden backers is to form a political action committee he would use to funnel money to other Democratic candidates, which could build goodwill for a possible White House bid, people familiar with the talks said. Meanwhile, Mr. Biden is preparing to attend a Democratic event in Iowa, which traditionally holds the first nominating contest, and to raise money this week for the Democratic governor of New Hampshire, the state that holds the first primary.

The WSJ quotes David Axelrod as dismissive of the idea that Biden will run against Hillary.  “I would be shocked to see that materialize,” he says, even as Biden prepares for his trips to Iowa and New Hampshire.  Perhaps he’d be shocked to see Hillary run if Biden gets into the race?  Naaaah.

Team Biden says that we can’t write off a sitting VP:

“He’s the vice president of the United States of America! When you’re the sitting vice president and you’re running against anybody, you still have a chance,” said one person close to Mr. Biden.

Putting aside Biden himself, let’s test that hypothesis.  Sitting VPs actually have a rather poor record of success following two-term Presidents who serve out their entire terms of office.  The only sitting VP in our lifetime to have won election in his own right without having taken over the presidency due to the death of his predecessor was George H. W. Bush.  Al Gore failed, and so did Richard Nixon in 1960, although he won in 1968 and 1972, and Hubert Humphrey lost that 1968 election to Nixon. Before that, one has to go back a long way to find success — all the way back to Martin Van Buren.  Even apart from successive elections, VPs have a poor track record in presidential elections — Gore, Walter Mondale, Humphrey, and Gerald Ford all lost.

Now consider Biden himself, his propensity for gaffes, and his track record of plagiarism and failure on the presidential-campaign trail.  That’s not a resumé that would lead anyone to guess that Biden will be an exception to this historical trend, and neither is his age.  He’ll be 74 years old in 2016, hardly a magnet for the youth vote.

By that same measure, though, why should Hillary Clinton be considered a lock for the nomination?  She’ll be 69 years old in 2016, with a track record of surprising failure in presidential campaigns, too.  Add to that the incoherence of foreign policy under her term as Secretary of State, the embarrassment of the Russian “reset,” the scandal of the Benghazi terrorist attack and aftermath, and the notable lack of accomplishment at State under her direction, and it doesn’t add up to much of a platform.  The Clintons may be more popular than the Bushes, but they share the same time frame and relevance to the 2016 electorate.

These two may be better matched as opponents than we thought.  If they crowd out the rest of the field, especially the Democratic governors that might speak to the current generation of voters a little more effectively, Republicans might be the biggest beneficiaries.

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