The reasons for former vice president Joe Biden not to run in 2020 for president are not insubstantial. He has run unsuccessfully for president twice before. He will turn 78 in November 2020. At a time insiders are vilified, he’s truly a lifetime politician, having served in one capacity or another from 1970 (on the county council) to January 2017. He’s famously undisciplined in rhetoric — although compared with President Trump, he’s a regular Calvin Coolidge.
That said, he sure does sound like someone who is considering a run. He told Vanity Fair as much in an absorbing interview:
Had Beau Biden never fallen ill, Joe Biden would have run for president. “No question,” he told me. “I had planned on running, and I wasn’t running against Hillary or Bernie or anybody else. Honest to God, I thought that I was the best suited for the moment to be president.” …Asked for his current state of mind about 2020, Biden ruled nothing out. “I haven’t decided to run,” he said, “but I’ve decided I’m not going to decide not to run. We’ll see what happens.” He is behaving very much like a probable candidate, having formed a political-action committee, American Possibilities, in June, and writing opinion pieces in recent months for The Atlantic and The New York Times about Donald Trump’s illiberal conduct and the need to reclaim traditional American values.
Biden reportedly looks trim and vigorous. And let’s face it, if not for the tragic loss of his son, Biden would almost certainly have run in 2016, could well have beaten Hillary Clinton and could have wiped the floor with Trump using a combination of righteous anger, mocking and aggressive debating (recall how he mauled Paul Ryan in the 2012 VP debate).
So what’s the case for a Biden run? Vanity Fair lists the obvious ones:
He is inherently likable and uncommonly joyful for a politician. He is an experienced foreign-policy hand who has forged relationships with leaders the world over. He represents an old-fashioned ideal of bipartisan cooperation that many Americans crave, maintaining amicable, ongoing relationships not only with John McCain but also, he says, with Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, John Kasich, and Rob Portman. And for someone who has worked in Washington for virtually the entirety of his adult life, he is resolutely un-bought: not a “swamp creature” but a wage-earning public servant.
Republicans often say Biden has been on the wrong side of plenty of foreign policy issues, but compared with Democratic novices and Trump, he could well seem like a foreign policy genius.
There are some additional reasons for Biden to run:
1. Biden’s liberal record (e.g. pushing Barack Obama forward on gay marriage), combined with his working-class roots and emphasis on bread-and-butter issues, could unify a party split between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and center-left Democrats.
2. One can see how easily he could trounce Sanders. (“C’mon, Bernie! My mother — God bless her — would say, ‘Joey, how ya going to pay for it?'” Or something like that.)
3. The Democrats don’t have a wealth of presidential-ready talent. They have a flock of potential candidates, but few who have run a national campaign or have the fundraising network Biden does. You could, however, see a Biden-Kamala Harris ticket, for example, which points the way to the future.
4. Biden could certainly decide to run for one term, in essence setting up an apprenticeship for the next Democratic nominee for 2024.
5. He would almost surely have Obama’s implicit, if not explicit, support.
6. His wife, Jill Biden, is a fabulous asset, an experienced public figure.
7. He can be undisciplined, even silly and gaffe-prone, but he has been vetted over and over. Moreover, if he gets on the stage with Trump, he’ll instantaneously seem the more presidential of the two.
8. He’ll have a huge advantage in money, organization and name recognition.
9. The danger for the Democrats if Biden doesn’t run is that centrists rally to Terry McAuliffe, who will be quickly labeled as Clinton’s lackey. Now that would be a disaster for Democrats.
10. Each president in some sense is a reaction against the last one. Biden would be the un-Trump — experienced, kind, empathetic, good-humored, self-deprecating and decent.
Now there is a big reason he may not run — namely, if Trump doesn’t run or doesn’t win the nomination. Then a younger, fresher and less vulnerable Republican would be on the ballot, and the argument for a Democratic nominee from a new generation would be stronger.
All this is down the road a bit. Gosh, the 2020 presidential cycle won’t start until a day after the 2018 midterms. Oh, good grief, we really are about a year from the 2020 campaign kickoff.