The Washington Post

Biden for president? It’s an increasingly untenable idea.

If Vice President Biden has serious designs on running for president in 2016, this much is clear: History — as in his own history and the history of vice presidents — will not be on his side.

(Charles Dharapak/Reuters)

The latest blast from the past arrived Tuesday in the form of a memoir by Robert Gates. The former defense secretary unleashes an especially brutal appraisal of Biden in his book, saying he thinks he's been "wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades."

Ouch. Actually, double ouch.

Here's why.

The central question for a Biden 2016 campaign would be this: Can he actually be president? As in, is he serious enough to do the job? Biden's gaffe-prone nature — which may be exaggerated but is nonetheless a big part of his image — and colorful personality promise to raise all sorts of "Is he really ready for this?" questions in the minds of voters.

Gates's appraisal of Biden on what is arguably his signature issue — Biden was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — stands to feed doubts about seriousness and qualifications that have already been planted in the minds of voters across the country.

It's the latest piece of discouraging news for Biden, who has been doing the kinds of things one does when seriously considering a White House bid. Things like spending time in Iowa and raising money for the governor of New Hampshire, for example.

Nearly one in five Iowa Democrats and almost six out of 10 Iowans said they viewed Biden unfavorably in a recent Des Moines Register poll. Sixty-two percent of Iowa voters (and 33 percent of Democratic voters there) said they did not think he would make a good president in a Quinnipiac University poll. We're talking about a state where Biden won about 1 percent in the 2008 Democratic presidential caucuses.

There's a broader historical trend that has nothing to do with Biden that is also working against him: Sitting vice presidents simply haven't been elected to the top job often. When George H.W. Bush did it in 1988, he became the first since Martin Van Buren in 1836.

Finally, taking none of this into account, there would still be one major potential obstacle in Biden's way: Hillary Rodham Clinton. The odds that the former secretary of state will run for the Democratic ticket look pretty good at this point. And if she does make a bid, Clinton would be the overwhelming favorite.

The White House came to Biden's defense Tuesday following revelations about Gates's book. "The President disagrees with Secretary Gates’ assessment — from his leadership on the Balkans in the Senate, to his efforts to end the war in Iraq, Joe Biden has been one of the leading statesmen of his time, and has helped advance America’s leadership in the world," said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden. "President Obama relies on his good counsel every day."

But Obama would be put in a very awkward position if both Clinton and Biden were to run. So it's a safe bet that at least some influential Democrats fearful of such awkwardness would press Biden not to make a bid if Clinton does.

Of course, Biden is a politician who has done it his own way throughout his career, so it's possible that none of this would dissuade him from running.  And if he does, his long résumé of accomplishments and his tenure in the Obama administration would mean that he certainly wouldn't be a pushover.

But in the here and now, the prospects of Biden winning the nomination, let alone the presidency, are looking dimmer by the day.


Arizona Treasurer Doug Ducey (R) raised more than $1 million for his gubernatorial exploratory committee, he will announce. Ducey has $923,000 cash on hand.

The Ready For Hillary super PAC raised more than $4 million in 2013.

The Obama administration will run health-care ads during the Winter Olympics.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) raised $1.4 million during the final three months of 2013 and ended the year with $6.4 million in the bank. Meanwhile, Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) raised more than $1 million for his Senate campaign during the same period. He has $4.2 million in the bank.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is not a fan of the Gates book.

First lady Michelle Obama will make a West Coast fundraising swing for Democrats later this month.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is getting a conservative challenger.

Embattled Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) got his first primary challenger.


"Senate moves ahead with measure to extend long-term unemployment benefits" — Paul Kane and Robert Costa, The Washington Post

"Obama Speaks of Better Days for Economy, With Asterisk" — Michael D. Shear, the New York Times

Aaron Blake contributed.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.



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