Stop snickering. The prospects of an internecine fight between Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden should have progressives worried, especially with Bernie Sanders still rising in the polls. Michael Tomasky rightly frets that a Biden entry while Hillary still remains in the race will have both sides “going for the jugular” — and in both cases, the jugulars are particularly large targets. But it’s Tomasky’s perspective on their biggest selling points that really displays how ugly this will get:
He’s going to have to run a campaign that says, sub rosa: “I’m a stronger and safer nominee because she’s corrupt.” Because that’s the only argument, is it not? He can’t out-populist her, really, even with Warren promoting him—he’s been in politics for 40 years and he’s always been a pretty conventional establishment liberal on economics. He can maybe say he has more experience, but she’s got plenty of that, and it’s not a deficiency; it would be like Tim Duncan saying I have more experience than LeBron James. Yeah, you do. So what?
Biden would have no choice but to build a run around the idea that she’s too risky. He or his surrogates will need to press the idea that the party could nominate Clinton and then next fall, Trey Gowdy finds that Holy Grail email that brings the whole thing crashing down. In other words, his candidacy is going to have to be built around what is in essence a Republican Party talking point.
And if he goes for the jugular, the Clinton team will surely respond in kind. They’re not wallflowers, those folks. They know how to fight. And they’d be fighting on behalf of the millions of Democratic women out there for whom it’s Clinton’s time. That’s her emotional rationale. But Biden has an emotional rationale, too: Beau. Where women will be protective of Hillary, Biden’s backers will be protective of him, too, because of his war hero son’s death.
Let’s recap. Hillary’s best emotional argument is that it’s her turn, and that Democratic women will get angry if she gets pushed out of a second attempt at a coronation by some old white dude. Biden’s best emotional argument for leader of the free world will be that his son recently passed away. Even if both sides refrain from attacking each other, the best campaign we can hope to see will be I Paid My Dues versus In Memory Of.
Yes, that’s a pretty ugly prospect, all right. We can call it the Ruling Class Entitlement Contest.
What seems mystifying in this essay is that there is a built-in assumption that Hillary shouldn’t be challenged within the Democratic Party nomination race, especially on her performance as Secretary of State. Well … why shouldn’t a sitting two-term VP run for the next nomination? And why shouldn’t the machinations of the SecState to evade oversight and transparency be an issue in that nomination fight? After all, it was the Obama/Biden administration’s policies that got violated by Clinton, right? Obama and by inference Biden promised The Most Transparent Administration Evah, and Hillary’s secret server tarnishes their (admittedly mostly absent) efforts to deliver on that promise. Tomasky calls concern over the exposure of classified material on an unsecured communications channel — an abuse of power from top to bottom — a “Republican talking point,” an argument that damns Democrats far more than it does Republicans, unless we just take for granted now that Democrats don’t care about national security.
Tomasky seems mostly cheering for Biden’s continued sidelining in the 2016 race in favor of the Democrats sticking with the Next In Line. Ask Republicans how that’s worked out for them over the last couple of cycles. Most will probably respond by saying the results looked …. ugly.