Gossip started flying over the weekend that Joe Biden is about to say something. On Monday, CNBC tweeted: “Joe Biden to announce whether he is running for president in 2016 or not in the next 48 hours, sources tell @NBCNews.”
So there we are. The big moment is nigh. Generally speaking, insiders think he’s getting in. The folks in Clintonland certainly seem to think he’s getting in.
I don’t, however, know a single person I’m aware of who wants Biden to get in. And I’ve been asking. Journalists, activist types, policy wonks, political operatives—among them, the consensus is that he let all this dangle a little too long and that he doesn’t really bring anything to the table that isn’t already on offer from the existing candidates.
A Biden candidacy was always a bad idea, in part for reasons I wrote about back in early August: no real rationale, no major policy differences with Hillary Clinton, he’ll just end up attacking her trustworthiness if he wants to get anywhere.
In the 10 weeks that have passed since I wrote that column, it’s only become a worse idea. First of all, Biden’s polling performance isn’t so hot. He’s third, behind Clinton and Sanders. He’s been pretty steady for the last two months, at 15 to 20 percent. So it’s not as if he’s lost ground, but the general assumption in politics is that once a person announces, he slips a bit in the polls because he goes from being a neat hypothetical idea to someone whose warts the electorate actually begins to contemplate (and whom the press begins to scrutinize). He’s also third in Iowa, and a pretty distant third in New Hampshire. Oh, and third in South Carolina, too, 25 or 30 points behind Clinton. Polls can change, of course—they often do. But there’s no obvious reason to think they’re going to change much here, for such a known quantity as Joe.
The second reason it’s become a worse idea is that Clinton seems to have stabilized. She topped everybody’s expectations in the debate. She showed life, zest for battle. (She’s a high-energy person!) She regained the lead over Sanders in New Hampshire—well, according to one poll anyway. And the Benghazi committee—oh Lord, what a pathetic clattering of jackdaws (yes, it’s a thing). Did you notice what a really, really, really bad weekend those people had? Andrea Mitchell schooled GOP committee member Mike Pompeo on Meet the Press. And the CIA shot down Trey Gowdy’s latest allegations about Clinton supposedly pushing out classified material.
But it’s even worse than that: As Mike Isikoff reported at Yahoo! News, Gowdy inadvertently revealed the identity of a “human intelligence” source in Libya whose name he (wrongly) accused Clinton of putting out there. An auto-goal of slapstick proportions. That committee should disband itself out of embarrassment.
But it won’t, and Clinton has to testify there Thursday. Maybe they’ll cross her up somehow, maybe Gowdy is sitting on some Clinton email where she wrote “Osama bin Laden had a point” or something, and it’ll all come crashing down on her. But, you know, probably not. She’ll probably do fine, and if she does, this cloud will also start to lift.
And finally, well, it still seems to me like a bad idea because he’s grieving, and that will need a lot of time. I shouldn’t presume to tell another (a parent, no less) how to process his grief, but man, it seems impossible that he’s operating at 100 percent, and to run for president, whatever else you are, you pretty much need to be that.
But everybody swears he’s running.
It’s hard to imagine why. Yeah, yeah, because Clinton might implode in scandal, and then he’s positioned to be The One the Party Turns To. But isn’t he already that? Yes. I mean, Bernie—you know as well as I do the party is not going to turn to him in such an event. The immediate response of the party bigwigs in the event of a Clinton collapse would be “Dear God, we have to find someone who can beat Sanders,” and that person would be Biden. Some folks would want Elizabeth Warren (there remains no indication she has the remotest interest in being president). You’d hear a few John Kerrys. Maybe from Oakland would emanate a Draft Jerry Brown movement. But basically Biden is the guy—now, today. There’s that old concept in royal familydom of “the heir and the spare.” Biden is the spare. Already acknowledged. Doesn’t need to get in.
So why would he? Sure, his son’s dying wish, and his belief (which he must harbor) that he would actually be a better president than Clinton or any of the rest of them. But does he really see a path to victory—that is to say, to beating a non-imploding Clinton? That just doesn’t seem possible. What seems more possible instead is that a Biden-Clinton contest ignites a gender war inside the Democratic Party.
No, the smart play is for Biden to give a big speech saying how painful all this has been for him, how he respects all the candidates but Hillary Clinton in particular has been a great friend and is an amazing lady, and he’s going to sit it out. And if he does that right, he locks down his status as the spare even more. He goes out a hero. He has everyone’s gratitude and esteem.
But everybody swears he’s running.