Biden and Staff Considering 2016

VP Joe Biden with President Obama

White House photo

Biden and Supporters Considering 2016
| published August 2, 2015 |

By R. Alan Clanton
Thursday Review editor

In January of this year Thursday Review published a short article entitled “Biden Eyeing 2016 Bid?”—a political analysis piece which considered the idea that the vice-President was considering running for the top job. Our article received dozens of responses.

Most readers were taken aback. Democrats who responded seemed generally incredulous that anyone would challenge Hillary Clinton, the presumed front-runner (though it is now highly fashionable among the party faithful to claim a quiet, moralistic fondness for Bernie Sanders, or Lincoln Chaffee, or Martin O’Malley, or any one of the others whose candidacy is not constructed around inevitability). Republican responders largely thought a Biden candidacy would be tantamount to deliberately loosening the loaded canons on board an already creaking wooden ship—it would be only a matter of time before the Democratic Party’s fireworks begin (that is until the GOP faithful discovered that Trump’s gaffes trump even the pratfall-prone Biden).

The entry into the 2016 sweepstakes of Chaffee, Sanders, O’Malley, and more recently James Webb, has done little to blunt the sense that Hillary Clinton will steamroll her way to the nomination with only token resistance. Only the ultra-progressive Sanders sparked any genuine opposition to Clinton from within the Democratic left; Sanders early fundraising blitz has channeled more money than one would have thought possible toward the self-described Democratic Socialist, giving him some political street cred despite his longshot chances.

But Biden was widely seen as a fallback plan in those days when there was still that unlikely chance that Clinton’s candidacy would not spring to life. Biden was lumped in as a soft of secondary front runner in a nebulous, uncertain pack which included Montana’s Brian Schweitzer and New York’s Andrew Cuomo. By late spring the Democratic race was starting to congeal around a basic narrative: Sanders, Chaffee, O’Malley for the progressives who want nothing to do with a Clinton/Bush big money rematch; Webb for the fiscal conservatives and military hawks; Hillary for everyone else, which is to say 70% of the party.

But a funny thing happened recently. Sanders polling (like the Trumpster in the GOP) just keeps getting stronger. At the end of July, Sanders was running at 19% in both CNN and Fox News polls, and his RCP (Real Clear Politics) polling average was 18.2%. Though clearly the teacups aren’t rattling over at Clinton headquarters, Sanders has shown that Clinton is far from inevitable. In fact, moving almost in tandem with Clinton’s surging negatives—a downward spiral of negative factors spurred on in part by the continuing saga of her missing emails from her tenure at State Department—has been Sanders ascent from single to double digits.  But that begs the question: how would a dedicated and unapologetic leftist like Sanders fare in a general election fight with someone like Jeb Bush, Chris Christie or Marco Rubio?

In that context it begins to again make sense that Joe Biden and his thinkers are giving additional consideration to 2016. The Associated Press is reporting that word has leaked out of the Biden inner and outer circles that serious questions about fundraising and network building have come back into play, and that Biden himself has asked several top staffers to look into what would be needed to establish operations in the earliest primary and caucus states—Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Some media sources are also reporting that some Biden staff members have drafted working papers with firm deadlines and bullet points on what will be necessary to move forward in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The AP is reporting that if Biden makes a final decision, the announcement will come within four to five weeks. To add fuel to the simmering fire, a New York Times columnist is reporting that some Biden family members—notably the late Beau Biden—have encouraged him to run.

At age 72, Biden may sense that this will be his last opportunity to run for the top job. If elected, Biden would become the oldest President ever to assume office on Inauguration Day (age 74)—though his generally robust health makes such concerns seem irrelevant to some. John McCain, the GOP nominee in 2008, was 72 at the time of his White House run, which—had he won that year—would have given McCain the title of oldest person elected President. Biden could exceed that once hypothetical ceiling.

That Biden would strongly consider a candidacy comes as no surprise to those who have worked with over the years. Biden has run before—three times—and was once one of the Democratic Party’s brightest rising stars. Biden can also go the distance in debates with any Democrat or Republican (Hillary Clinton included) when it comes to a deep understanding of foreign affairs, military matters and intelligence, the budgeting process and government spending. It is easy to think of Clinton as the most experienced of the huge crop of candidates now running for President—until you do the math and realize that Biden served in the U.S. Senate for 36 years, having been first elected in 1972 while Bill Clinton was still in law school and Hillary Rodham was nearing the completion of her studies at Yale.

Biden was the fourth most senior member of the Senate at the time he was selected by President-elect Obama to become Obama’s running mate in 2008. Biden can also demonstrate the sort of Washington negotiating strengths that most candidates—Democrat or Republican—would like to have on their own resumes. He served as a member and later chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as the Judiciary Committee. His other strengths are infrastructure and criminal justice. Biden is also a fighter: he was at the center of the storm for the Supreme Court nominations of Robert Bork (1987) and Clarence Thomas (1991), arguably the two most controversial high court selection processes in U.S. history. Biden won the loyalty of many Democrats, but also instilled the animus of plenty of Republicans.

His 1988 campaign for President, which showed promise in the aftermath of presumed front runner Gary Hart’s meltdown and Biden’s ability to raise $1.7 million in early 1987 (more than any candidate), imploded after it was revealed that Biden had purloined lines from British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock in speeches, and had plagiarized liberally from John F. Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, and others in his writing and public remarks. Biden’s presidential fortunes sank.

Looking at 2016, Biden may be hedging his bets when it comes to Clinton—seeking to position himself in the sweet spot if for some reason the Clinton campaign implodes. There is also the ongoing and active thread of Clinton-fatigue, which among Democrats means a general uneasiness with the possibility of a rematch between a Clinton and a Bush, as well as a queasy feeling that the Democratic Party may be turning backward at a time when it should be moving forward. Some progressives are deeply distrustful of the Clinton campaign’s open intention to outspend her opponents, and fear that the predictions of a $1.5 billion Presidential campaign may yet turn out to be inevitable. A draft-Biden movement has already been in full motion for months, though without any direct support or involvement by Biden and his team.  Those close to Biden also say he is closely watching labor organizations and unions, a substantial segment of traditional Democratic support openly dubious of Hillary Clinton; some union leaders are, in fact, quietly gunning for Biden to enter the race, a fact which may prove pivotal to Biden's ultimate decision on 2016.

There are doubters.  Some analysts say that Biden has frankly waited too late for an entry into a field already dominated by the Clinton mega-machine.  Skeptics also question if Biden, the 45 year veteran of the Senate and the White House inner circle, can compete at all in a year when voter sentiment reflects largely anti-Washington animus.  His late arrival to the field means that Biden's enduring insider's relationship with Washington may be a tough liability to overcome, especially at a time when polling data and fundraising success are so closely linked for Democratic donors.

But on the other hand, late arrivals like Donald Trump and John Kasich have gained rapidly in GOP polls, again bolstering the notion that anything is possible. Biden may consider 2016 his last best opportunity to trade jobs—from vice-President to President—and fill in that final line on his 40-year resume of elected service.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Biden Eyeing 2016 Bid?; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; January 22, 2015.

Jeb Bush, Out of the Box; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; July 21, 2015.