Is Biden Closer to a Decision?

Joe Biden

Image courtesy of Draft Biden 2016 PAC

Is Biden Closer to a Decision?
| published August 23, 2015 |

By R. Alan Clanton Thursday Review editor

Much has changed in the Presidential race over the course of just six weeks. For one, businessman and TV personality Donald Trump—once considered the ultimate vanity candidate and the longest of the long shots—now leads the crowded Republican field by a healthy margin. Trump, who at one point in his exploratory process in the spring drew only about 40 people to an event in New York, now draws thousands—upstaging all other candidates combined at last week’s Iowa State Fair, and filling a football stadium in Mobile, Alabama with more than 22,000 followers.

Meanwhile, presumed front-runner Hillary Clinton faces a daily battle with reporters and the media over the continuing and unfolding saga of her email accounts and a computer server once housed in her home in Chappaqua, New York. As Secretary of State, Clinton used a private email account, and used the homebrew server, instead of a government-issued account linked to servers at the State Department. Clinton says it was a matter of convenience, but as her campaign faces the daily travails of contending with reporters’ questions, especially now that the FBI and other agencies are driving the investigation, that decision seems in retrospect anything but convenient.

The damage to her campaign has come in small cuts with each day’s news cycle, and though she is still considered the undisputed front-runner among the American electorate, her standing among Democrats has eroded slowly over the past six to seven weeks. In most polls Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders now leads Clinton in his neighboring state of New Hampshire, a key early primary battleground. And though Clinton still leads in Iowa, Sanders has been steadily chipping away at her once-solid support.

Meanwhile Clinton’s other official opponents—former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee, and former Virginia Senator James Webb—all watch as their polling fortunes fall into low single digits, or lower, so low that some weeks it seems as if they have vanished from the political radar completely in a news feed dominated by Trump and Clinton.

Waiting in the wings, watching ever-more-closely, is the vice-President of the United States—a man who has sought the highest office in the land multiple times in a long career in politics, and for whom the quasi-medical condition of hankering for the Presidency has never subsided.

Rumors about Joe Biden’s interest in running have grown continuous in recent weeks, in tandem with Clinton’s email and server troubles, and as part of the larger template of dissatisfaction among the majority of Americans with their choices for 2016. Trump’s rapid ascendancy points to a deeply divided GOP, but also to a tsunami of belief by the majority of voters that Washington is broken—damaged by the career politicians who now profess to have new answers to decades-old problems. Trump has, unexpectedly, captured the energy of that mood.

Sanders’ success also represents similar dissatisfactions, though his following is almost exclusively among progressives and leftists openly distrustful of Hillary Clinton, and dubious of her claims that she is all about genuine progressive change. Also, some younger Democrats simply don’t want to hear of another Clinton—or Bush, for that matter—in the White House. Sanders may be older than Clinton, but he at least for some he represents a substantial departure from the same-old-same-old.

The intensity of the talk about Biden has reached a fever pitch in recent days as he has had frequent meetings—both openly and in private, some even quite hush hush—to decide whether he has the support and the fundraising moxie to enter a Democratic race still dominated by Clinton in most polls. Biden has met with heavyweight donors and bundlers, and he has also met with other would-be candidates, including Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, once such a star among the left that it was her name put forward as the prime alternative to Clinton. Though the exact conversation between Warren and Biden is not known, their weekend powwow is widely believed to have been Biden’s pitch to Warren to gain her support. If true, Biden may be preparing to challenge Clinton from the left.

Warren has not endorsed any candidate, but her strength and popularity among progressives is so powerful that if she were to even nod in Biden’s direction, it would give his infant campaign an immediate boost.

Other progressives, sensing that Clinton’s email imbroglio may become both too deep and to messy to clear up before Iowa, have begun to intimate that the as-yet unofficial Biden campaign will soon become a necessity for Democrats. California Governor Jerry Brown, himself a seasoned and thick-skinned Presidential candidate from decades past, said as much on NBC’s Meet the Press, warning that Clinton’s server problems will surely segue inevitably into the next round of Benghazi hearings and investigations. Brown called the scandal “dark energy” and compared the fracas to “a vampire” which will continue to suck the life from her campaign message until nothing is left. “She’s going to have to put a stake in it” by coming clean, Brown said of Clinton’s daily battles with the email and server fiascos.

Brown told Meet the Press that Biden should “give very serious consideration” to running for President in 2016.

Some progressives and hard left Democrats worry that even if Clinton’s campaign crashes, the aging Bernie Sanders would be no match for a much younger Republican challenger—Trump, Bush, Walker, Rubio—and that the quasi-Socialist Sanders would be deeply out of step with the electorate. Some Democratic strategists agree that Sanders makes an appealing protest candidate, but they ask the simple question: what chance would Sanders have in a general election when it comes time to reach out to centrist voters in dozens of key battleground states. One Democratic friend of Thursday Review asked it this way in an email this week: in a swing state like Ohio or Virginia or Florida in the General Election, how likely will the average Jane or Joe voter be to cast that all-important vote for Bernie Sanders?

Sanders may galvanize progressives and leftists, but will he galvanize the so-called Reagan Democrats? When the question is framed this way, Joe Biden suddenly seems a lot more appealing to a party which would like to maintain occupancy of the White House for at least four more years.

In that vein some political analysts consider Biden a likely addition to the field. And though his arrival will surely not shake Clinton’s resolve nor slow her juggernaut, the vice-President may unintentionally force at least two bottom tier folks to the sidelines, O’Malley and Chaffee, neither of whom have seen much movement since they announced their intentions to run months ago. Biden would have little effect on Webb, who has every reason to remain the sole center-right Democratic, but the departures of O’Malley and Chaffee would clarify the path for progressives and liberals.

Even O’Malley concedes that a Biden candidacy would be a healthy thing for the party, declaring “it would be nice to have at least one more lifelong Democrat in the race,” an apparent dig at Sanders, who has often described himself as a socialist instead of a Democrat. O’Malley’s comments came on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, during which O’Malley agreed that Biden would make a formidable addition to the field.

Biden has been meeting with others as well, including his substantial list of friends and colleagues in Washington. The timing may be ripe, especially as some heavyweight Democrats grow weary of the daily journalistic, media and investigative assaults against a Clinton campaign increasingly locked into damage control mode.

Of course there are obvious downsides to the Biden equation. For one, dissatisfaction with Clinton—even among the most loyal of Democrats—does not automatically translate into support for Biden. It seems clear that many of Clinton’s diehard followers will find it tough to abandon their standard-bearer simply because she is under constant bombardment from a seemingly hostile media, or that the peripheries of her campaign are being tested and probed by agencies like the FBI. Indeed, some might fairly argue that such is the more-or-less permanent condition of life in Clintonland.

Biden might also find it difficult to dislodge those Democrats already developing a love for Bernie Sanders. Sanders and Biden may both be progressive Democrats, but they share neither a common political language, nor the same grass roots appeal. Sanders—who is barely a Democrat in the traditional Old School sense, speaks in the same parlance as other outside progressives, quasi-radical reformers like Ralph Nader who feel the system is broken beyond the repair of an inherently corrupt two-party system. Biden is clearly a Washington insider, some might argue the consummate insider; a member of Congress since he first won election in 1972, while the Clinton’s were still law school students working for George McGovern. Biden can hardly call himself a reformer, and this may limit his ability to maneuver in an election year in which outsiders are the Cat’s Meow, and anti-Washington sentiment is running at levels comparable to when Ross Perot first challenged the two parties in 1992.

Even if the Clinton campaign suffers a catastrophic meltdown, which seems unlikely even if Servergate gets measurably worse, Biden does not instantly inherit the Clinton brand or its fundraising power. Many major Democratic donors and bundlers may simply choose to keep their cash, or hedge their bets by spreading money toward the others—especially centrist Webb.

Still other Democrats may be squeamish about Biden simply because, sooner or later, he becomes Joe Biden—the foot-in-mouth campaigner who inadvertently or absent-mindedly insults a constituent group or rambles his way into a corner. Think of his offhand remark about Indian-Americans and their apparent prominence in the 7-Elevens in Delaware.

Biden would have to act quickly, however, in order to get himself positioned solidly enough to make the cut for the first major Democratic debate, scheduled for early October. He would also have to make deep traction within enough key-state polls to convince donors to give cash toward his cause. One PAC is already in motion, though it is entirely unofficial. Draft Biden 2016 is already recruiting volunteers, building its email and postal mail lists, and identifying those inclined to shower money in Biden’s direction. Fundraising success will beget confidence, which will beget polling success, and vice-verse—a virtuous cycle which may inspire Democrats to consider Biden a viable alternative to Hillary Clinton.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Server May Yield More Problems for Clinton; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; August 19, 2015.

New Polling: Sanders Gaining on Clinton; Keith H. Roberts; Thursday Review; August 14, 2015.