They don’t make them like Joe Biden anymore. Is that a good thing for his 2016 chances?

July 18, 2013

They don't make them like Joe Biden anymore.


Joe Biden. AFP/Getty Images

This statement is the simplest and most accurate thing that can be said about the former Delaware senator, current vice president of the United States and potential 2016 candidate for the presidency. Whether Biden's uniqueness is a good thing or bad thing -- for him and his political prospects -- is largely in the eye of the beholder (and that beholder's party identification.)

The latest display of Biden's after-him-they-broke-the-mold-ness comes in a lengthy -- and terrific -- profile of the vice president in GQ that opens with Biden touring around his childhood home, peering in windows to see the places he and his sister once played, and stopping by the cemetery where his parents, his first wife and his daughter are all buried.

Biden's authenticity is on full display throughout the piece -- not just in the rambling tour of his hometown that he directs but also in his re-telling of how he overcame a childhood stutter to become one of Delaware's most successful native sons and in a thousand other small vignettes.

That authenticity is Biden's ace in the hole, but it is also the joker in his political deck. He is as close to a real person as you could possibly imagine for someone who has been in public life for, well, most of his life. People call him "Joe". When he says "God love 'ya" no one rolls their eyes. He cries at public events. "He's got a set of balls," explained New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, bluntly.

And, he says thing he shouldn't say. Lots of things. On the day Biden announced his run for president in 2007, an interview in which he called then Sen. Barack Obama "clean" and "articulate" was published. The previous time he ran for president in 1987, he dropped out of the race after it turned out he had plagiarized parts of a speech. He has urged a man in a wheelchair to stand up, talked about Indian-Americans and 7-11s and cracked a joke about John Roberts with the chief justice just feet away. (Time magazine has a good laundry list of Biden's gaffes.)

Biden's tendency to stray off script -- or ignore the script entirely -- is why we have long believed that if he ran for office for the first time today, he would not win. While Biden's heart-on-sleeve, hail-fellow-well-met personality is without doubt powerful, his campaign -- for House or Senate or governor -- would almost certainly be overshadowed by a series of Twitter tempests in teapots over some comment or other he made.

Of course, Biden isn't running for office for the first time. He spent almost four decades in the Senate and has been the vice president of the United States for the past five years. So, if he runs for president in 2016 -- and we believe he absolutely will if Hillary Clinton doesn't -- his campaign could be defined as much by his, well, Average Joe persona as by his tendency for gaffes.

What the mix would be between the "Joe Biden, real person" and "Joe Biden, class clown" narratives holds the key to understanding whether he could actually win the presidency come 2016.

What's clear: Modern politics may never spawn another politician quite like Joe Biden again.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan | July 18, 2013