NBC: Joe Biden wants to be either president or Hamlet

Has anyone since Shakespeare’s Danish prince wrung his hands more over making a decision about leadership? “Joe Biden wants to be president,” NBC News reports today, and that “each day, he’s getting closer to being ready to run for the office,” emphases mine. Biden’s sneaking up on this decision, perhaps unaware that he’s in plain sight — or banking on it.

Hasn’t this story run almost every day on every media outlet for the last two months?

Conversations with aides to the former vice president and others who’ve spoken with him in recent weeks present the idea of a Biden candidacy as not if but when. Since the start of the year it’s been like a “slow boil,” as one aide put it, with Biden’s answer on whether to run moving in a steady direction toward yes, incrementally warmer with each passing day.

Elected Democrats and key party figures who’ve spoken with Biden, in person or by phone, say he has been giving percentages of the likelihood of him running — from 70, to 80 and even more recently 90 percent. He speaks regularly with former President Barack Obama, who is acting as a sounding board to his former running mate. And he’s even called several of his would-be opponents in the 2020 Democratic primary, congratulating them on their announcements and wishing them well even as he may soon face off against them.

Sources close to the former vice president say he’s clear-eyed about the political challenge ahead if he runs, not taking anything for granted in a crowded race for the nomination even as he’s confident he offers the party the best chance to beat Trump.

It must be NBC’s turn in the rotation for yet another Biden’s-almost-running update. It’s got all the elements seen in every other story about Biden and his 2020 angst: steady progression to an affirmative decision, the likelihood percentage, his regular contacts with Obama and other leading Democrats. NBC managed to even hit the “he’s not taking anything for granted” trope, for Pete’s sake, even though it looks more like Biden’s in the grips of analysis paralysis.

This one does have a new twist, though:

No one’s going to attack Biden’s family, for cripes’ sake. Biden’s had more family tragedy than most people, and certainly more than anyone else in the race. His genuine suffering makes him a very sympathetic figure and it makes it all but impossible for such a line of personal attack, if anyone was cruel enough to plot something like this in the first place. Biden’s got far more of an issue with his handsiness around women and his repeated gaffes than he does with his son’s divorce and addiction issues.

At this point, one would have to start wondering why Democrats would want him in the race at all. His indecisiveness in the last cycle might have cost them the White House. Biden would likely have beaten Donald Trump in a general election; he certainly would have turned out voters better in Pennsylvania and Michigan, and Biden would have known to show up in Wisconsin, too.

After the loss of his son, Biden’s 2015 indecision was understandable. Now, though, it’s looking like a pattern. Biden spent almost forty years in the Senate, where he didn’t have to make too many executive decisions, and another eight as Obama’s VP, which didn’t require too much decisiveness either. Rather than being prepared to take on the mantle of commander-in-chief, all this dithering makes it look like Biden’s much more comfortable in his former role as legislator.

Yes it’s only February, with the first primary eleven months out, but this isn’t about the calendar. The field is already expanding with high-profile candidates who will be hiring staff, securing institutional donors, and staking out policy claims. Biden has had eleven years to make this decision in concept, and this is the second time in four years that Biden’s had the decision in front of him in reality. Maybe he just doesn’t have it in him — and if so, maybe someone should let Democratic voters know it as soon as possible. To thine own self be true, after all, as someone once wrote.