It started with a column published over the weekend by the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd. Those who managed to slog their way through the ankle-deep river of bile directed at Bill and Hillary Clinton that is characteristic of most of what Dowd writes would find that someone told Dowd:
“Joe Biden is also talking to friends, family and donors about jumping in. The 72-year-old vice president has been having meetings at his Washington residence to explore the idea of taking on Hillary in Iowa and New Hampshire.”
Dowd’s informant also told her that Biden’s late son Beau pleaded with his father to run not long before he died.
What ensued was a wave of “Is Biden running???” stories in print and broadcast. And you can’t really blame those of us in the media, since the Democratic race hasn’t offered much in the way of compelling competition so far. The rise of Bernie Sanders was an interesting story, but it’s not the kind of story political reporters like best, one about politicians facing off with an uncertain outcome.
So let’s be realistic here. It’s true that we’re still six months away from the Iowa caucus, and it’s easier for a sitting vice president to get in late than it would be for many other contenders. But there’s virtually no reason to believe that a Joe Biden presidential campaign will actually happen.
Is Biden talking about it with friends? I’m sure he is. Over the last quarter-century, Biden has probably had ten thousand conversations about this topic. “Joe Biden talks to person about running for president” is not exactly news. As the Post’s Karen Tumulty, Dan Balz, and Paul Kane patiently explained:
He and his closest advisers have spoken to some of those who have suggested that he run. But there is no indication that he has taken any serious steps toward launching what would be a challenging campaign to deny Hillary Rodham Clinton the Democratic nomination.
Like most politicians who have been around for a long time at a high level, Biden has a collection of satellites orbiting him — current and former staffers, friends, fundraisers, and the like — many of whom would surely like him to take one last shot at the big desk. But he has raised no money, hired no staff, done nothing that would suggest that he’s actually contemplating it seriously.
And then there’s this fact: it’s a terrible idea.
Biden is in some ways a skilled politician, but he happens to be abysmal at running for president. The first time he ran, in 1988, his campaign imploded when it was discovered he had plagiarized parts of some of his speeches from British politician Neil Kinnock — and then other instances of plagiarism, political and academic, emerged as well. (It’s an interesting historical footnote that when a video juxtaposing Biden’s and Kinnock’s speeches was discovered to have been produced by Dukakis campaign chief John Sasso, the press found the tactic so scandalous that Sasso was forced to resign. It was a more innocent age, I suppose.)
But it wasn’t like Biden was headed for the nomination in 1988 anyway. He was at best in the middle of a very large pack. When he ran again 20 years later, he did even worse. He came in a weak fifth in Iowa, garnering just under one percent of the vote, and promptly pulled out of the race. It seemed that voters’ response to him tended to run along the lines of, “He seems like a nice guy, but I’m voting for someone else.”
Biden’s time as vice president hasn’t been particularly notable, other than to reinforce his image as a lovable yet unpredictable guy, sort of a nutty uncle who’s a blast to have around because of all the crazy things he says, but to whom you wouldn’t necessarily want to trust the nuclear codes (and The Onion’s version of Biden may be the single best comedic character the Obama years have produced).
That’s not to mention the fact that Biden will be 74 in January 2017 when the next president takes office, and 82 at the end of a second term. Our oldest president, Ronald Reagan, was a month shy of his 70th birthday when he took office in 1981, and his advancing age was a serious concern for his presidency (Hillary Clinton will also be 69 at the end of 2016). While there hasn’t been any public evidence that Biden’s age has impaired his ability to carry out the duties of the vice president, it would almost certainly become an issue if he ran.
It’s a free country, and Joe Biden can run for president if he wants. But if he did, his chances of beating Hillary Clinton for the nomination would be tiny. I’m sure he loves all the speculation, and enjoys spending some time fantasizing about being president. But something tells me that even Biden himself knows that it isn’t going to happen.