Maureen Dowd's column over the weekend -- which reported that Beau Biden's dying wish was that his father run for president in 2016 -- has started anew a debate over whether the Vice President should or will make the race.
There's tons of conflicting reporting on that question; some people are highlighting the fact that a longtime fundraiser for Beau has signed onto a draft effort for the vice president while others note that Biden has done nothing that would indicate he is moving toward the contest. Divining what's accurate and what's wishful thinking in all of this is made all the more difficult by the fact that this is a deeply personal decision for Biden -- one likely spurred, if he did run, by the deathbed wish of his son. The circle of who really knows what Biden is thinking, then, is extremely small.
So, rather than try to understand what Biden will ultimately do, I asked a handful of unaligned Democratic strategists where he might fit into the race if he did run. And, their opinions, much like my own, were that there's not a whole lot of room for the vice president in the race.
"The Democratic primary audience isn’t pining for something different," said one Democratic consultant granted anonymity to candidly assess the prospects of the vice president. "You have your Elizabeth Warren crowd that is currently gravitating to Bernie Sanders. Joe Biden can’t capture any of that crowd. And Hillary has great passion from the African-American, young, and female base. Joe Biden does not mean anything to those individuals."
That idea, that Biden simply lacks any real niche in the race, came up in every conversation I had today about his prospects. Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker summed up Biden's problem nicely in a tweet over the weekend.
The only issue I would take with Ryan's assessment is that I believe Biden is a superior campaigner when compared to Clinton. While Biden absolutely has had his ups and downs on the campaign trail -- "clean, articulate", for one -- he has a charisma and magnetism that she, at least based on her 2008 campaign and the start of this race, lacks.
But, Biden isn't THAT much more charismatic than Clinton that he lean on it to make up for all the very good points Ryan (and the strategists I talked to) made about his sameness with Clinton. Elections are about choices, and it's hard to see how Biden represents a clear break from Clinton. Sanders or even Jim Webb are a far starker contrast to the former Secretary of State.
Then there is the fact that Biden (still) isn't expected to make a decision about the race until the end of the summer. Clinton formally announced her candidacy on April 12 and in the time between then and June 30 raised $45 million for her campaign committee -- not to mention the hundreds of staffers in both her national headquarters and in states like Iowa and New Hampshire that have been up and running for months too.
"I think Biden faces a tough challenge that any candidate would face at this relatively late stage of the campaign," said one Democratic consultant. "Granted, he would have an advantage over others in terms of name ID and organization. But for practical purposes, he is probably too late."
The best/only explanation the Democrats I talked offered for a Biden candidacy was predicated on a massive collapse by Clinton. "Biden is a default position if Hillary implodes," said one senior party operative. "A safe candidate for those that fear Sanders is too liberal to win."
Maybe. But does a man who spent decades in the Senate and the last eight years as the second most powerful politician in the country really want to base an entire presidential campaign on the off chance that the frontrunner screws up so badly that he can fill the void she creates? Joe Biden is many things and proud is one of them; I have a hard time imagining that he'd run on the hope that Clinton trips.
One last thing to remember: Joe Biden is still Joe Biden. As in, once he became an official candidate the problems he experienced as a presidential candidate (in 1987 and 2008) as well during his time as vice president wouldn't suddenly disappear. Biden would probably still overshare and say things he shouldn't. Those statements would lead to speculation about whether he was up to the top job. And so on and so forth.
The idea of Biden for president is to many an appealing albeit heart-wrenching storyline: The man who ran for president to fulfill the dying wish of his son. But, once the initial glow of that story wore off, it's hard to see how and where Biden would fit into the race to be the Democratic presidential nominee. That doesn't mean he won't run. It does mean though that the idea he would immediately (or ever) be competitive with Clinton looks far-fetched.