The Internet loves Joe Biden. Here’s why that’s a problem.

November 13, 2013

The Internet loves Joe Biden.  Tumblr is awash with Biden-inspired sites. A video of Biden swearing in new senators at the start of 2013 has been viewed more than 260,000 times on YouTube. Biden accidentally calling the wrong Marty Walsh went viral last week.

But, a new Quinnipiac University poll suggests that while Biden may make everyone smile, even Democrats have a hard time imagining him as president of the United States.


Biden. Joe Biden. AFP/Getty Images

Just one in four registered voters say they think Biden would make a good president, while 65 percent say he would not.  And it's not just Republicans who are responsible for that low number. A bare majority of Democrats (51 percent) say they think Biden would make a good president, while three in four independents (73 percent) say he would not.

That 40-point gap between "good" and "not good" president is far higher than any of the other potential 2016 candidates that Quinnipiac tested. The only candidate close to that sort of negative ratio of good president/not good president is Texas Sen. Ted Cruz who had a 24 percent/51 percent rating. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (32/47) and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan (34/46) also had net negative ratings on the question, while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (49/31) and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton (54/40) had positive scores.

Here's the fundamental contradiction that lies at the heart of Joe Biden: The hail-fellow-well-met-ness that makes him a sort of lovable rogue -- for many Democrats and even some Republicans -- is the same trait that ensures many of those same people can't take him seriously as a president or presidential candidate.

Here's how Jeanne-Marie Laskas described that duality in a terrific and revealing GQ profile of Biden:

There's a joke. Something fundamentally comical. That's where the public starts with Biden. I recognized it in Rome, when I traveled with him to the pope's inauguration. He was meeting with friends, presidents from across the globe. Because Joe Biden has been at this so long, don't forget, that he is the stuff of middle-school civics exams. I saw him freelance a grand Joe Biden entrance into President Giorgio Napolitano's palace, teeth gleaming, arms fully outstretched, ready to hug this guy, that guy, Hey, guys! I'm here! You're here! We're beautiful! Decked out in his smooth blue suit, white pocket square — his broad smile the kind a man reserves for his bowling team. This demeanor contrasted sharply with everyone else's. Guards in shiny helmets sprouting horsehair ponytails, bedraggled White House advance team in smart skirts and solid-color pumps. A Biden entrance can make the stuffiest event intimate, for an instant human and vaguely ... funny.

It wasn't always this way. When Biden first really became a national figure it was as a front-running (or at least top-tier) candidate in the 1988 presidential race. But, his bid effectively ended before a single vote was cast when it was revealed that he had plagiarized a portion of a speech from a British politician named Neil Kinnock. By the time Biden ran for president again 20 years later, the too jokey/too gaffe-prone-to-be-taken-seriously narrative was already in place. And, Biden did himself no favors when, in an interview that was published on the same day he formally announced his bid, he referred to then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama as "clean" and "articulate."

Public perception, once settled, is something that's very difficult to change -- particularly for someone as universally known as Biden. Now, it's worth noting that if Biden did run in 2016 -- and he's giving every indication he is interested -- he would have a very high-profile platform by which to set about convincing people that he is plenty serious enough to be president. But, make no mistake: Biden would have to convince people of that fact because they don't believe it right now.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan | November 13, 2013