Joe Biden’s lips on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last week may have been demurring on a decision to run for President, but his eye on a major Wall Street player in New York on the same trip may have been saying Let’s make a deal. Bloomberg’s John Heileman reports that Biden met with a major bundler for the Obama/Biden ticket, one who had already committed to Hillary Clinton in this cycle. Robert Wolf denied that Biden had discussed getting his support for a run at the Democratic nomination, but Heileman remains suspicious:
The bundler in question was Robert Wolf: the former chairman and CEO of UBS Americas, a prodigious buck-raker on behalf of Barack Obama in two successive campaigns, a four-time appointee to economic panels in the Obama administration, and perhaps the only person in the American business community—and certainly the sole Wall Street potentate—with whom Obama during his time in office has developed a deep and genuine friendship. …
Wolf, whom I’ve known since he first backed Obama in early 2007, confirmed that the meeting had taken place. The topics they discussed, Wolf said, ranged from the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, a focus of Wolf’s consulting firm, 32 Advisors. When I asked him if Biden had declared definitively that he was running, Wolf said no. Had Biden made a plea for Wolf’s support? Wolf again said no—and pointed out he was supporting Clinton. Had Wolf come away with the impression that Biden was going to run? “If he doesn’t know yet,” Wolf said coyly, “how would I?”
Heileman isn’t quite buying this as a coincidence:
Wolf is by nature a straight shooter. But both the timing of the meeting and its furtiveness strongly suggest there is more here than meets the eye. Though Biden and Wolf have crossed paths at the White House over the past seven years, Wolf admitted that until last Friday, they had never had a sustained or personal conversation. Now, suddenly, he found himself swapping stories with the vice president about the closeness to their sons (like Biden, Wolf is a father of two). Just as it would take a stratospheric degree of political naivete to believe that, at this moment, Biden summoned Wolf to his hotel to discuss infrastructure—unless the infrastructure in question was that of the nascent Biden 2016 effort—it would require a willful blindness not to see the get-together for what it plainly was: the beginning of a courtship, and potentially one of considerable political consequence.
Perhaps, although it may be that Wolf is telling the truth, too. Frankly, it’s getting a little late in the day to start lining up fundraising for a presidential bid, especially given the efforts of Hillary to lock up the big institutional donors in the party. If Biden was looking for financing for a bid at this stage, he’d start looking among the uncommitted bundlers — and there are still 90% who have not committed to Hillary.
Instead, if it’s the beginning of a political courtship, it looks more like one that’s in line with a Plan B in case of a Hillary withdrawal. With Bernie Sanders catching fire on the Left, there is no small chance that Hillary’s donors and staffers would plant their flags with Team Bernie and ride the populist wave, except for those donors who might fear that populist momentum … such as Wall Street titans like Wolf, for instance.
It’s a setup for a Democratic escape hatch from going The Full Socialist in 2016 — and you never should go The Full Socialist.
Biden may be the only opportunity for Democrats to avoid it, though, if Hillary has to pull out or craters so badly that a win is impossible. Salena Zito explains why Democrats may see Biden as the most logical Plan B:
Whether Biden runs for president or not, his ability to unite authentically with people fills a void that politics hates — the dreaded vacuum created by a bad candidate.
In one afternoon, Biden did what none of the Democrats running for president has achieved so far: He connected in a meaningful way with people who will vote in the Democrats’ presidential primary — the same voters who have no problem swinging their votes to a Republican, if they feel their voices and concerns are not heard. …
In Pittsburgh, Joe Biden did what declared candidates need to do, on both sides of the partisan aisle, as the political silly season fades and we head toward casting votes: He reminded people that what they want in a leader is the ability to show a natural empathy with ordinary folks, however far from the concept of populism that may be.
The presidential candidate who can do that — without shouting, name-calling, or reading stiffly from a script — will not have a hard time getting elected in 2016.
Given Biden’s propensity for foot-in-mouth disease on the campaign trail, his horrendous track record on foreign policy, his age and his Washington establishment tenure of over 40 years, and running as the third term of Barack Obama make this a desperation choice, to be sure. But who else do the Democrats have left?