Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Joe Biden Shouldn't Be Counted Out

Vice President Joe Biden (D-DE)
Hindsight is 20/20, and even when we can see what could have been, it's just as contested to discuss how we could have fixed it.  Democrats will, like they did in 2004 and Republicans did in 2012, look at the 2016 election for years, possibly the remainders of their lives, wondering how we screwed up and what could have possibly changed.  The reality is that Hillary Clinton was our choice, and in my opinion was the best candidate we had in the primary.  Bernie Sanders would have been decimated against Donald Trump-two men going for the same "anti-establishment" crowd, but the reality is the "anti-establishment" frequently ends up going with the party out of power, which was never going to be Bernie Sanders no matter how often he ditched his party label.  Sanders was better equipped to take on a conservative like Ted Cruz, someone where ideology (and not likability-neither of these guys seem particularly at ease with people) was going to be the center-point of the conversation, and where a third party candidate could have come in and destroyed Cruz (I'm convinced that Mike Bloomberg, caught between Cruz and Sanders probably would have made a third-party play if the candidates were this polar-opposite).

Clinton, it's worth noting, was more suited for the man most of us assumed would be the nominee at the beginning of the cycle: Jeb Bush.  While it's fun to rewrite history and proclaim Marco Rubio or Scott Walker the prohibitive favorite, Bush was for many months the leader in the polls, the invisible primary, and in general seemed like the most serious-minded candidate for the national Republican conversation.  Plus, at the end of the day the GOP had always gone with the candidate they were "supposed" to go with, give or take Reagan in 1980.  Clinton and Bush were so similar that it likely would come down to how much the country liked Clinton's boss/Clinton's husband versus Bush's brother, and those odds favored Clinton.  When Trump came around, it was pretty clear to me that the candidate we likely wanted had passed months earlier, not realizing that he'd be so well-suited to take on the now President-Elect: Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden is an easy magnet for ridicule.  He says what he thinks, he uses phrases like "malarkey" and "big fucking deal" on national television.  He is the goofy guy who gives back rubs to bikers and wears aviators unironically.  If Barack Obama is Harry Potter and Hillary Clinton is Hermione Granger, Joe Biden is decidedly Ron Weasley-kind at heart, but frequently making mistakes getting there.

But Biden is also a practiced retail politician with a background that could have picked Donald Trump apart.  Biden was always smart enough to know that the conversation that would best help the Democrats was the economy, not Trump himself, and the economy under his tenure in the White House has improved dramatically.  Unemployment is at a 9-year low, and Biden would have framed that around Trump, rather than Trump's fitness for office.  Because he was the Vice President it would have been harder to proclaim this a "change" election, and Biden's indisputable blue-collar roots, especially compared to the silver-spoon antics of Donald Trump, would have provided a sharp contrast that would have helped in critical swing states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.  Biden would have had to sidestep Bernie Sanders and the progressive movement, but let's be honest-there was enough sexism driving that movement that Biden would have fared better than Hillary Clinton.  Biden would have been difficult to attack personally (there would have been no email controversies or Clinton Foundation, not to mention attacking a grieving father would have been tricky for the GOP), and despite his "Uncle Joe" demeanor, he was chair of the Senate Judiciary and has never lost a general election-he's a lot smarter than he's given credit for.  Plus, while there would have been trouble with recruiting female voters (his biggest deficit in a battle against Trump compared to Hillary), he almost assuredly would have picked someone like Maggie Hassan or Claire McCaskill so glass ceilings would still be shattering.  Additionally, Biden could have gone more directly after Trump's misogyny without someone saying "she's only doing this because she's a woman" like the attitude was with Clinton (oh, the irony).

Biden had no way of knowing this when he declined a third run at the White House, and neither did the country or the party.  Just because he was probably the right candidate to run doesn't mean that he would have actually won.  The safest candidate rarely wins primaries (just ask Scoop Jackson in 1972, John Glenn in 1984, and Dick Gephardt in 1988), and there's no guarantee that there was room for Biden after Sanders gained so much support.  However, it does go to show that there was once an opening for Joe Biden to make it into the race.

Which is why it's not surprising to me that he is joking (but perhaps not so mockingly) the idea of him running for president in four years.  On the face of it, it seems absurd, but let's examine the evidence a bit.  The biggest deficit for Biden in four years would surely be his age-he'd be 77 on Election Day, and by-far the oldest man ever elected president (period, not even if you count reelections).  He'd have to run a grueling 16-month campaign, and would not have the added benefit of being the incumbent party, which would hurt (the country has not rejected an incumbent president in 24 years-it's a very, very, very difficult thing to do).  He also would have to survive a primary in a party that feels that his former boss wasn't liberal enough, while still staying relevant for a general that thinks that his former boss abandoned the working class.  Plus, in four years some of the debits that are currently attributed to Donald Trump will be gone.  He will have far more experience being president than Biden will at that point, since he will of course have been the president, and it's likely that a lot of his comments will be either toxic at that point or the country will have acclimated to them enough that they won't have the same level of bite.

But Biden is formidable in ways no other Democrat is.  For starters, he's by far the most popular and famous Democrat that could actually run in four years, and is the most qualified living Democrat in the country not to have been our nominee at some point.  He'll only be three years older than Trump at the time, so age won't be the factor that you'd think (if he were running against, say, Mike Pence, we'd have a different issue).  His candor will still resonate, and it's likely that Trump's economic policies will hurt the working class enough that they'll be shopping for a different candidate, one with blue-collar roots.  Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Chris Murphy, Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand all have attractive aspects about their prospective candidacies, but none of them approach the ease with which Joe Biden can appeal to states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.  Biden could even double-down on this strategy by being unconventional in the same way as Trump, perhaps stating that he'll only be on the ticket for one-term (giving way to a younger generation politician like Harris or Booker), and running for the inside straight Clinton probably should have gone for (rather than targeting reach states like Arizona) through the traditional Gore/Kerry states, plus Colorado and Nevada.  Democrats don't have a star of his size, and four years from now they might be scared enough of a Trump presidency that they want a sure thing.  The closest they get is Joe Biden.  I personally doubt he runs, but there has to be a part of this man, who has given so much of his life to public service and has run for POTUS twice, who sees 2016 as a race he could have won, and thinks that 2020 could be his moment to be Richard Nixon in 1968-back for one last successful run after being counted out years earlier.

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