Biden clarified, according to CNN, that “Hillary would have been a really good president.” But that isn't likely to make Clinton supporters feel much better.
Biden isn't the first leading Democratic figure with possible designs on 2020 to apparently slight Clinton. Clinton's 2016 primary foe, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), has repeatedly offered some version of this quote: “It wasn't that Donald Trump won the election; it was that the Democratic Party that lost the election.”
Those comments have definitely rubbed some Clinton supporters the wrong way, and Biden's are likely to even more so, given how direct they were.
Of course, Biden isn't saying anything that most every election analyst hasn't. You can make a pretty objective case that Clinton wasn't a great candidate, given she lost an election she was expected to win to an opponent who became the most unpopular president-elect in modern history. And even Clinton herself has acknowledged her shortcomings in appealing to voters.
“I am not a natural politician, in case you haven’t noticed, like my husband or President Obama,” she said at a Democratic debate in March 2016.
That's not a far cry from what Biden said on Thursday night. And in most situations, a party that lost a presidential campaign wouldn't so fiercely guard the good name of the candidate who lost — much less one who had just lost a second presidential campaign in eight years. Republicans, for instance, were only so happy to place the blame for their 2012 loss squarely on the shoulders of Mitt Romney and his failure to connect with people. The same goes for Democrats and John Kerry in 2004.
So why not Democrats in 2017? Part of the reason is that they simply don't feel Clinton really lost. Russia's hacking, FBI Director James Comey's late announcement about her emails (and the media's coverage of that issue) and her popular vote win have combined to create a genuine sense that she was robbed — almost literally so. And Clinton has only fed that beast with her repeated comments dissecting the unfair reasons why she lost.
It's a delicate dance for the likes of Biden and Sanders right now. They want to emphasize that the party can do better, but in doing so, they risk alienating some very passionate and outspoken Clinton supporters with an almost religious sense of righteousness about 2016.
Perhaps it could be done more delicately, but to pretend Biden is wrong about Clinton not being a great candidate is to bury your head in the sand. And that's a pretty dangerous thing for Democrats to do right now.