In a heartfelt statement to reporters moments ago, Joe Biden confirmed that he won’t run for president. Various news accounts indicate that Biden is still struggling with the grief he has been enduring since losing his son to brain cancer. Biden had repeatedly vowed not to run if he and his family did not have the emotional energy to commit to an intense, grueling, and protracted campaign.
The Times explains more of what happened:
Questions persisted, as they have throughout his career, about whether Mr. Biden could put together a strong enough team to be successful. Never known as a good fund-raiser, he did not begin courting donors until September, and he did not always do so in earnest. And though many potential campaign aides were approached about jobs, the planning remained haphazard until the moment the vice president made his decision.
At the same time, Mrs. Clinton’s allies prepared for what would have been a messy, grueling campaign against a rival whose greatest political calling card has been his authenticity. Mr. Biden would most likely have faced difficult questions about his record as a senator, including his role in passing anticrime legislation in the 1990s that has now come under attack by proponents of criminal justice reform, like the Black Lives Matter movement. And he risked having his family — including his son, Hunter, a lawyer and businessman who was discharged from the military after testing positive for drugs in 2014 — pulled into the fray….
Some people close to Mr. Biden believed he wanted to set the terms of the end of his electoral career himself, as opposed to have them dictated by the political shadow that Mrs. Clinton had cast over him.
As Paul Kane adds: “Without Biden, the field is likely to settle into a head-to-head contest pitting an establishment favorite, Clinton, against the iconoclastic outsider, Sanders.”
There will be more to say about what this means for the race later. For now, with only a little more than a year left in the Obama presidency, Biden’s exit is another reminder that the Obama era is coming to a close: Biden will, along with the President, soon pass into the realm of Democratic elders, though it’s always possible he could join a Hillary Clinton administration.
Biden probably made the right political move. There was never a clear policy lane for him to convincingly differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton, and polls had showed that Democratic voters trusted her far more than him on many major issues. Nor was there any clear clamor for Biden to enter.
Biden enjoys, and will continue to enjoy, a tremendous amount of good will among Democratic voters. And rightfully so. As I’ve written before, Biden’s “goofy ol’ fun-loving Uncle Joe” persona is mostly a product of the camera, which is unfair to him — it never did justice to how serious a public servant and policy thinker he has been over the decades. Biden’s public mourning — he lost a wife and daughter many decades ago, and his son only a few months ago — has inspired his friends and ideological foes alike. The depths of grief he has known are unfathomable to those of us who have not lost children, yet he has somehow managed to come to the surface to teach us a lesson in how to publicly cope with searing, unimaginable tragedy.
Even Biden’s more colorful and ad-libbed moments have masked something more serious beneath the surface. Biden will long be remembered for pronouncing the signing of Obamacare a “BFD” in 2010, which made a lot of people laugh, but in a way, it was appropriate: you instinctively understood that he could speak with authority on just how “BFD” it really was, given that he is a veteran with decades of governing experience.
Biden also deserves a quick shout out for the impact he had on the gay marriage debate. While the credit for nudging the country towards acceptance of gay rights goes overwhelmingly to the ordinary men and women who insisted on equal treatment for decades in the face of overwhelming hostility, the Obama administration’s efforts have been exemplary. It’s not clear that Obama would have become the first president to declare his support for gay marriage if Biden had not “accidentally” gone off message and broken with the president on the issue. Biden had a hand in writing the history of one of this country’s major social and civil rights transformations.
Anyone who has been fortunate enough to talk to the Vice President can report that he brought a striking level of seriousness to his ruminations about the difficult moral conundrums that often lie at the heart of policy dilemmas. Liberals have had major differences with Biden over the years, but this is a man who has devoted a good deal of his life to the idea that government can be a force of good in improving people’s lives. As those who have discussed these matters with Biden can attest, Biden deeply grasps that a crucial part of the challenge of governing and enlightened policy-making is that this idea is often a tough sell in this country — and will continue to be a tough sell going forward. But it’s a challenge that Biden will undoubtedly remain committed to — and make great contributions towards meeting — for many years to come.