Saturday, July 12, 2014

What About Joe?

Vice President Joe Biden (D-DE)
There are a lot of unanswered questions heading into the 2016 presidential elections, and for the most part the media seems to be addressing them.  What are Hillary's flaws?  Can Rand Paul overcome his libertarian background to land the Republican nomination?  What effect will Bridgegate have on Chris Christie?  These are all legitimate questions, and ones worth pondering, but I thought it was about time I talked about the elephant in the room that no one seems to be addressing: Joe Biden.

The Vice President seems to largely be outside of the conversation for the presidency.  Most people think, considering his age and the dominance of Hillary Clinton in early polling that the Vice President would either not run or he wouldn't be a major factor in the race.  The Vice President would become the oldest person ever elected to the presidency were he to run and win, this is true, but there are a couple of factors that make Biden an element of this race at least worth discussing.

For starters, the age question isn't as damning as you would think.  The Vice President would be 73 on Election Day in November 2016.  That does seem old, particularly when you compare it to Barack Obama being 47 when he won the Oval Office in 2008.  However, there have been some recent examples that would bolster the credibility of the Vice President as a legitimate candidate for President. Bob Dole, for example, was also 73 when he was the Republican nominee for President in 1996.  John McCain was 72, just a year younger than Biden, and Ronald Reagan was just a few years younger than Biden at 69 when running for the presidency (not to mention Hillary Clinton will be 68).  The age factor would definitely be that (a factor), particularly considering he would, if he were to be successful, be in his 80's when he finished his second term, but both Israel and Italy have presidents currently that are considerably older than Biden would be on his last day in office, not to mention that Biden looks at least a decade younger than he actually is, which would help in commercials.  The age thing may be something that would hold back Biden (and would be an interesting counterpoint to someone considerably younger like Ted Cruz), but it's not like it worked against him during the Paul Ryan debate and Ryan's the youngest-looking person considering a run in 2016.

It's also true that the Vice Presidents of retiring presidents usually pursue the presidency.  While Dick Cheney proved this trend wrong in 2008, the other three sitting Vice Presidents before him who served under two-term presidents all ran for the nomination and won it.  And while many people write about the cursed nature of running as a sitting Vice President, the reality is that George H.W. Bush won the election in a landslide while Richard Nixon (in 1960) and Al Gore both lost in extraordinarily close elections, close enough that historians can legitimately argue that they may have won were it not for "electoral discrepancies."  Having a landslide and two freakishly close elections is not really an argument against nominating a sitting Vice President.

There is a third factor here to consider: Joe Biden desperately wants to be president, and that's a huge part of actually making the plunge into the race.  Running for president is exhausting, excruciating work.  It's why I laughed when Mitt Romney said a few years back that he "didn't really want to run for president, but felt he had to" (that is a paraphrase).  No one puts themselves through that sort of media scrutiny (having every minute detail of your life, every tiny discretion that you've ever committed (and everyone you love committed shared) shared with the world) without desperately wanting what's at the end of the campaign.  Biden has run for the White House twice before (in 1988 and 2008), and after eight years of being a heartbeat away from the presidency, likely wants to take that one last promotion.

And finally, Democrats really like Joe Biden.  Despite his series of gaffes (and that would be something the media would latch on to, and is a legitimate concern worth having), Biden has a likability that is hard to deny.  He's not as rehearsed as other politicians, and in an era where people tend to loathe Washington and all that comes with it, someone who comes across as genuine without seeming practiced (Biden shares that skill set with Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, two recent successes at the ballot box) would be an attractive option worth considering.  He also has a blue collar appeal that would resonate in states like Missouri and North Carolina in a way that President Obama simply doesn't have, adding credibility to his ability to expand the map (always an important consideration for a presidential candidate).

The reality is, of course, that there are some major debits to a Biden presidential candidacy, several of which we've already discussed.  The biggest, though, is that Hillary Clinton is in a position that few non-incumbents have ever enjoyed in the polls.  I think we could go so far as to say that if she runs for it, she wins the nomination.  The Vice President is keenly aware of this, and may not want to add a third presidential loss to an otherwise strong political legacy.

There's also the factor that Biden would only be the prohibitive frontrunner if Hillary decided that 2016 wasn't for her (again, I seriously doubt she does this).  The only real way that Biden were to be the nominee is if Hillary doesn't run (if someone's going to upstage her, it's going to be someone with outsider credentials like an Elizabeth Warren, not a quintessential career politician like Biden), but then he would have to contend against a sea of Democrats who could distance themselves from some of the more unpopular aspects of the Obama administration. Warren, Andrew Cuomo, and Kirsten Gillibrand likely would be willing to defer to Hillary Clinton because of her position within the party, but Biden doesn't have that sort of sway.  The Vice President may be aware that he couldn't topple the new generation of Democrats and step aside to avoid the risk of becoming Harry Truman in 1952.

All that being said, though, he would still be a major threat for the nomination in a race without Hillary, so I continue to be flummoxed as to why the mainstream media doesn't seem to at least entertain the concept of a Biden candidacy.  While Christie, Clinton, Paul, and Ryan all get daily articles about their chances, there's a slim possibility that the man who will actually be president is nowhere near the front page.

No comments: