Vice President Joe Biden has been all over the news this week — and not in a good way.
Biden’s trip through the swing state of Virginia has been marred by a series of missteps ranging from slips of the tongue (he pledged to win North Carolina again while in the Commonwealth) to downright gaffes (he used the word “chains” in reference to what a Romney Administration might do to the American public). (Make sure to read Jonathan Martin’s piece on how Biden’s staff tried to manage him — and the media.)
For all of the attention Biden’s Virginia trip has drawn, it has, in many ways just affirmed — or reaffirmed — what we already know about him. Here’s four:
1. Biden will never totally succeed in this media environment. Biden was elected to the Senate in 1972 — long before Twitter, campaign trackers, You Tube and 24-hour cable television stations. His political genius is his ability to relate to people one on one and in small(ish) groups, ideally without someone typing every word he says — as he says it — into Twitter. It’s virtually impossible to imagine Biden being elected to the Senate in this day and age; his willingness to engage reporters coupled with his tendency to speak off the cuff would make him a messaging nightmare for a campaign. Biden isn’t alone as a very successful politician who might not have the same success if he started his political career today rather than several decades. The most obvious other example is Bill Clinton who struggled mightily to deal with the new media realities during his wife’s 2008 presidential bid. It’s worth noting, however, that the idea of Joe Biden as a presidential candidate in his own right down the line hits a snag on the long history of his struggles to manage message in this brave new world.
2. President Obama knew what he was getting into. The idea that Obama or his senior campaign team are somehow surprised that Biden has veered off message this week is ludicrous. Biden’s political brand has been built around his average, well, Joe-ness forever. It’s what has made him such a successful political figure over the past four decades but it’s also what’s kept him from grabbing the ultimate brass ring of his profession: the presidency. In 1988, there was Neil Kinnock. In 2008, there was “articulate” and “clean”. Biden, for better and worse, is Biden. (While we’re focused on Biden at his worst, it’s worth remembering Biden at his best — like in this recent appearance with firefighters.) So it has been and so it shall be. When Obama picked Biden for VP, he knew what he was getting. And he’s been reminded of it regularly for the past four years.
3. Biden will be the Democratic vice presidential nominee. Biden’s bad week has re-started — for the billionth time — the rumor mill that he could/might be replaced on the Democratic ticket this fall by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The Drudge Report, a popular news aggregator, is currently leading with a Weekly Standard report that President Obama is meeting with both Clinton and Biden today. The Weekly Standard also is reporting that Obama still has three weeks in which to swap out Biden for Clinton. Here’s the thing: That will never happen. Putting aside the fact that Obama seems to genuinely like Biden and value his counsel, pulling a VP switcheroo would reek of desperation for a ticket that, according to the lion’s share of swing state and national polling, is winning the election at the moment. To quote Bob Dylan: “What’s the sense of changing horses in midstream?”
4. Biden is still an asset to Obama. While Biden’s rough week gets all of the attention — and rightly so — it’s important to remember where he was when he made the comments: southern Virginia. Biden may be the only major Democratic surrogate — with the exception of Bill Clinton — who can be an asset to Obama’s campaign in these sort of working class, heavily rural areas of swing states. Biden’s ability to speak to so-called “Reagan Democrats” — working class whites with a strong streak of cultural conservatism — in places like Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Pennsylvania remains of critical importance to Obama’s winning calculus in those states. Still.