A year and a half after giving up a 45-year-old dream to become president, Joe Biden told an audience on Friday that he could have beaten Donald Trump, had the death of his child not intervened.
The former vice president began the evening in typical Biden style: speaking for nearly an hour from a stage at Colgate University, seldom looking at his notes as he covered topics including the middle class and the digital revolution.
Then he sat down with the university's president, Brian W. Casey, unbuttoned his suit jacket, folded his hands and became quiet.
“Did you ever think, what if?” Casey asked. “Any regrets that you didn't run?”
Biden breathed deeply and looked down before he answered the question.
He had openly desired the presidency since winning a U.S. Senate seat in 1972, The Washington Post reported. He had twice attempted to win the Democratic nomination before the 2016 race, which — he looked back up at Casey before answering the question — “I think I could have won.”
He said he thought himself more qualified than any other candidate.
“I had a lot of data,” Biden said. “I was fairly confident that if I was the Democratic Party nominee, I had a better-than-even chance of being president.”
Biden looked at his hand, flexing it back and forth.
“I lost part of my soul, my, uh.” He cleared his throat. “Excuse me.”
He then recounted how the sudden illness and death of his son Beau Biden in the run-up to the Democratic primaries weighed on his decision to contest in the 2016 race.
“The press began to think I was playing a game, but I couldn't tell them about my boy,” Biden said. “He wanted me to run. … My son Hunter, my daughter Ashley, my wife, all thought I should.”
“I didn't,” he said. “At the end of the day, I just couldn't do it.”
The Post has recounted how, after Beau Biden's death in May 2015, Joe Biden's inner circle grew increasingly confident that he would challenge Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Party's nomination.
They believed so up until Biden's announcement that fall in the White House Rose Garden, which “snuffed out the last flickers of Biden's dream of occupying the Oval Office,” The Post reported.
At Colgate, Biden told the students, “No man or woman should announce for president of the United States unless they can look the public in the eye and say, 'I promise you I am giving 100 percent of my attention and dedication to this effort.' ”
He could not, he said.
“Do I regret not being president?” he said. “Yes. Do I regret not running for president, in light of everything that was going on in my life at the time? No.”
Biden was not nearly done with his audience, leaving introspection behind and moving on to other topics — inevitably, to the man who did become president.
Biden got to his feet and excoriated President Trump — his policies and his attacks on the news media.
“The attempt to delegitimize the press — 'fake news' — is the first act of any political scoundrel,” Biden said. He nearly yelled: “We are uniquely a product of our political constitution.”
By the end of the night, Biden was back in full-on speechmaking mode — a reminder that, even if he'd never be president, he was still a politician with half a century's experience.
“We should all have hope,” he said, “that not knowing anything about the job before he did it … he can grow more into the job and understand that the United States is the essential nation in the world in the year 2017.”