Thursday, August 13, 2015

Why Democrats Won't Follow Joe Biden into the 2016 Race

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Claire McCaskill, and Mark Warner:
Could they be looking for a new title?
The Hill ran a story this morning about the persistent rumors surrounding a presidential candidacy from Vice President Joe Biden, and got some provocative comments from Republican strategist Rich Galen.  Galen, a former press secretary for Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich (ie longtime political insider) seemed to insinuate that there are a number of Democrats who "brush their teeth and hum 'Hail to the Chief'" and they might take a further look at the presidential race should Vice President Biden enter the race.  I figured, considering the continued bad press that Hillary Clinton has been receiving both from her email and from her increasingly rough poll numbers (she's down to the major Republicans in swing states, her trustworthiness continues to plummet, and Bernie Sanders has started to take over for her in New Hampshire), could this be true?

The reality is that Galen is absolutely right in one regard-pretty much every senator and governor in the country, and a whole lot of former senators, governors, vice presidents, and cabinet secretaries look into the mirror and think "I bet I could be president."  You don't make it that far in politics without having ambitions to get that last step higher, and we all have moments where we wonder if we could do our boss's job.  It's just the nature of the beast.  And it's foolishness to pretend that the Democrats don't have just as strong of a bench as the GOP.  Yes, the Republicans have 17 high-profile candidates that they brag about incessantly, but subtract Hillary Clinton from the 2016 race and suddenly you'd have Amy Klobuchar, Maggie Hassan, Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, Julian Castro, Claire McCaskill, Al Franken, and Deval Patrick all making a lot of trips to Manchester and Davenport.  Joe Biden would have already entered the race, and high-profile 800-pound gorillas like Elizabeth Warren, John Kerry, and Al Gore would all be being asked repeatedly if they'd like to give it another go.  People like Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb would be largely forgotten from the stage, and would be relegated to the kiddie debate like Lindsey Graham and Carly Fiorina.  There may even be a Democratic celebrity candidate ala Donald Trump such as Oprah Winfrey or Ashley Judd that could be considered for the position.  Hillary Clinton's entry into the race ended all of that, but not just for the reasons that people thought.

Yes, many of them thought she'd be inevitable, but there's also a lot of respect that Hillary Clinton demands in the race.  The women I listed above have almost uniformly endorsed Mrs. Clinton for president, and did so months and in some cases years before she entered the race.  The men on the list above know what side of the toast their bread is buttered on and know that they could be a potential VP phone call away from happening (there's a 30% chance if you're VP that you'll eventually occupy the Oval Office-those are the best odds you could imagine).  With the exceptions of Biden, Kerry, and Gore, all of them have another shot left in them if Hillary Clinton loses in 2016 or even if she were to win-eight years is an eternity in politics, but like Hillary Clinton, Bob Dole, John McCain, and George HW Bush have proven before, you occasionally have to play a patient game to win a presidential nomination.

But even if they see the writing on the wall, the reality is that there's not much room left in the presidential race right now.  While the Republicans still have splinters of groups and pockets of support, even that wide-open race has started to see its camps forming.  It seems increasingly likely that Jeb Bush or John Kasich will become the establishment candidate, which is why they are making barbs at each other, while Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker are all battling it out for the Donald Trump voters who will inevitably tire of his boarishness when he has his "legitimate rape" moment.  One of these five men will be the GOP nominee.  All of the rest of the candidates in the race are just noise, trying to position themselves for cabinet positions, future runs, books deals, and FOX News positions.

And there's not much room left in the Democratic Primary.  Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are clearly the frontrunners at this point, Sanders in an increasingly real way though it feels like he's going to have to be challenged by the media at some point in a way that he simply hasn't been yet.  While Joe Biden, as a sitting Vice President, has the resources, name recognition, and gravitas to inevitably make a play in the race (he's a bit like Newt Gingrich in 2012 right now-too big to be ignored, unlikely to be the nominee but a decent insurance policy in case the frontrunner flames out and you're stuck with a field of gadflies), none of the other candidates do.  People like McCaskill and Klobuchar would look pretty craven if they jumped in after supporting Hillary Clinton so vociferously.  Deval Patrick and Tim Kaine don't have the liberal credentials to be able to take out Bernie-mentum without him capsizing first; even Elizabeth Warren would have trouble achieving that since Sanders has almost all of his support in her wake.  Al Gore theoretically could make a run as his constituency is slightly different than all of theirs, but he had much better shots in 2004 and 2008 and passed-it's hard to imagine he'd do it this year.  As a result, there might be a lot of politicians who want to be president and might even see their opening, but pragmatism has made it impossible for them to do so.

Which is why Joe Biden is the last real threat to Hillary Clinton's stand at the nomination, and why Democrats nervous about her handling of crises and preparedness as a candidate have encouraged him to get into the race.  Biden is the metaphorical warranty the DNC and national Democrats want so that if Hillary Clinton does fall flat, they aren't stuck with a Vermont Socialist as their nominee.

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