Joe Biden Is Still Not Running For President

Vice President Joe Biden’s announcement a few moments ago that he is not running for president should surprise no one. Pundits, desperate to derail the Clinton coronation, held out hope that by entering the race Biden’s candidacy would at least create the semblance of contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. But as I told The Guardian’s Tom McCarthy in an interview yesterday, Biden was never likely to enter the race because he had no realistic chance of beating Hillary, barring a Benghazi-related smoking email that sent her to the Big House. Given that fact, the logical play for Biden was to fuel speculation that he might run by playing the Hamlet card for as long as he could before the endless media speculation threatened to turn him in a caricature of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo (who in 1992 famously toyed with running for president up until the eve of the New Hampshire primary.)

Make no mistake about it. If Biden saw a path to victory, he would have thrown his hat into the ring long ago. But that path didn’t exist, short of a Clinton indictment. On most issues – with the prominent exception of foreign policy – his views are mostly indistinguishable from her’s. This left him struggling to create a public rationale for a Biden candidacy. Yesterday, at an event honoring former Vice President Walter Mondale, in bid to create such a rationale, Biden went so far as to revise his account of the events leading up to the President’s decision to send in a Seal team to assassinate Osama bin Laden.  After previously stating that he had advised against the raid, Biden changed his story yesterday and said he had privately advised the President to pursue the raid on bin Laden’s compound. The changed was apparently a thinly-veiled effort to make the case that on the most important decisions, he was the President’s closest and most trusted confidant – even closer and more trusted than the President’s then Secretary of State Clinton. The gambit exposed just how weak his case for running for president really was. Indeed, except for the additional gravitas afforded him by serving two terms as Vice President, it was never clear why his run for the presidency today would end any differently than his two previous unsuccessful attempts in the 1988 and 2008 cycles*.

Some pundits will point to last Tuesday’s Democratic debate as the tipping point for a Biden candidacy. In the aftermath of Hillary’s strong performance, a number of pundits pontificated that it removed any pretext for a Biden run. But, as I tweeted on social media at the time the debate had no impact on the underlying electoral dynamics which made a Biden run a longshot all along.

Instead, what it did was make pundits realize that, their fervent hopes to the contrary notwithstanding, there was never any valid rationale for Biden to run.

Absent the indictment, Clinton was going to clean his clock, strong debate or no strong debate. All the polling data led to that conclusion, not to mention the other indicators of Clinton’s strength, including money raised and endorsements received.  As evidence, note that after more than a month of getting hammered in the press for her emails, Clinton continued to lead her nearest rivals by 20% or more in national polls, and she was using her prodigious fundraising to put together a massive campaign infrastructure that dwarfed her rivals’.

So where does this leave the Democratic race? Precisely where it was before Biden’s announcement: with Clinton firmly in the lead. The latest polls indicate that she has pulled even with Sanders in New Hampshire, buoyed no doubt in part by her debate performance but also by the slew of media ads she has been running there for more than a month. Sanders is yet to get on the air in New Hampshire.  Nationally, polls show a slight uptick for Clinton of late, while Sanders’ “surge” seems to have leveled off, although one probably should not drawn any firm conclusions about what might be a short-term fluctuation.

There’s still a long way to go, of course. Sanders, who also did well in Tuesday’s debate, may yet be able to rally enough support to win in Iowa, a caucus state in which Clinton now leads, but which is notoriously difficult to poll. If so, he could conceivably parlay that victory into an upset in New Hampshire. But even then he faces an uphill climb to expand his support beyond the professors/young people/Ben and Jerry’s aging hipster crowd in order to compete against Clinton in states like South Carolina and Nevada that have larger minority populations.  But if Sanders is going to beat Clinton, he can’t count on Biden to help him bring her down.

And what of Uncle Joe? In his speech today, Biden acknowledged that, “As my family and I have worked through the grieving process, I’ve said all along what I’ve said time and again to others, that it may very well be that the process by the time we get through it closes the window. I’ve concluded it has closed.” But that is wrong – Biden’s window of opportunity has not closed. It was never open.

*Correction. An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated Biden ran for President in 2000.

8 comments

  1. Matt:

    That dangling “what if?” that you have also included still remains; what if she is indicted (or the equivalent) or proven to have been complicit in letting the Benghazi Four perish?

    Those of us who try to read all the commentary, may remember that General Ham, Commander of our forces in Africa, spoke out saying that when something like Benghazi begins, they start moving assets toward the hot spot. He went further and said he had ordered planes and equipment moving toward Libya and they were moving on station. Whether they could have gotten there on time remains a question for military minds way sharper than mine, but he made it clear that they could have not gotten to Benghazi without a CBO. That means simply that they cannot cross the border of an sovereign nation without approval from the one person in the world who can sign/approve a CBO, POTUS.

    And where was POTUS? Where was Hillary? I certainly expect this weeks’ testimony to clear up that mystery.

    Based upon history, I cannot imagine a crisis of this magnitude occurring and POTUS, the Secretary of State, and all other high level military and civilian authorities who happened to be in Washington, DC, not being in the Situation Room. But who knows? This POTUS has consistently managed to do the unimaginable, and get away with it.

    Lots of information still unknown; for Washington, that’s pretty unusual I’d say, especially after all this time. Somehow, I feel that Trey Gowdy, being the professional prosecutor that he is, must already know the answers to the questions he is about to pose to Hillary. That’s simple tradecraft for trial lawyers.

    Stay tuned for the Trey and Hillary Show coming soon. I can’t wait, myself.

  2. Under what circumstances do you believe Biden would have run?

    I doubt Biden would ever have considered running against Clinton, at least not unless she became unelectable, incapacitated or decided to withdraw for other reasons. All the other candidates who declared to run for the nomination of either the Republican- or Democratic Party had been making the rounds to the typical events and been courting sponsors/’donors’ at least a year in advance of officially declaring – with the exception of Lessig, that is. Clinton has been running in the invisible primary for almost 3 years. That is why we knew they were informally running; all 17 republicans and all democratic candidates bar Lessig were already listed over on wikipedia on this day a year ago.

    Now Joe Biden was attending fundraisers all over the country, too, in the run-up to the mid-terms. But after that, he didn’t do what all the other candidates did – nothing that suggested he might be considering a run other than that he never gave a Sherman Pledge. At least he did not do any campaign-like things until the end of the summer as far as I’m aware. What would have made Joe think that his best path to the nomination was going to be different from everyone else’s, that he could bide his time while other aspirants were laying the groundwork for their campaigns? After that, some people may have talked him into considering based on Clinton’s sliding poll numbers or whatever but as we know now, he still doesn’t see a reason to enter.

    What I’m less sure about is whether Biden would have run if Clinton had NOT run for the nomination. Its really hard to speculate much since everyone has known Clinton to be want it for years. But surely there would’ve been a flurry of other prominent candidates stepping forward. If Biden had wanted to profile himself in such a field and prepare for a campaign, would he not have been better off not seeking (a second term in) the vice presidency, just like Clinton resigned to prepare for her campaign?

  3. Shelly – I haven’t been following the Benghazi story nearly as closely as you but, yes, all bets are off regarding Clinton’s candidacy if Gowdy and his committee uncovers damaging information. However, given the perception among many (thanks to McCarthy’s comments) that this is a partisan-fueled effort to bring down Clinton, it will have to be a substantial and clear cut case of wrongdoing to really change public perceptions regarding her candidacy.

  4. Peter,

    Good question. My guess – and it is only a guess – is that Joe would have run if Hillary did not even though, as you note, Hillary’s absence would likely have prompted a bunch of Democrats to run in addition to Uncle Joe. But with her in the race, I just didn’t see any path to the presidency for him, and most of the evidence that you cite indicates Joe understood this.

  5. Personally I really like Jonathan Bernstein’s idea that Biden was running as a “understudy” for Hillary. So if the star get’s hit by a political (or real) meteor he’s ready to step in, but otherwise he isn’t going to run. This whole process for the last few months was thus a way of cementing his position as understudy.

    Also a typo: Biden ran in 2008 not 2000.

  6. Longwalk – I think Jonathan’s “Biden-my-time” scenario is very plausible. My one question, however, is why not wait until Hillary’s Benghazi hearing, in the off chance her testimony somehow compromises her candidacy? Or do you think that option is still open to Joe despite yesterday’s announcement?

  7. “Why not wait until Hillary’s Benghazi hearing, in the off chance her testimony somehow compromises her candidacy?” I think Biden probably subscribes to the mainstream Dem view that the hearing are just a bunch of made up nonsense by Republicans trying to embarrass Clinton. Regardless of what you think about the whole Benghazi thing if that’s the viewpoint of Democrats as a whole (and that’s largely what I think) then there’s no way for the hearings to really hurt Clinton. Even if she gaffes or whatever the partisan reaction will be to rally around her flag.

    Again though if Hillary turns out to have ordered the whole thing, or is revealed to be the Fifth Cylon, Biden can always jump back in as the understudy saying “duty calls” or something like that.

  8. Yes, that makes sense – I agree that the hearings are unlikely to sway opinions, particularly among hard-core partisans. I suppose it’s no harder for Joe to jump in now than before his announcement if Hillary falters.

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