Up until today, the Republican and Democratic presidential primary fields were a study in contrasts. On the right, you had a raucous melange of hyper-conservative ideologues, religious extremists and political would-be-kings vociferously bickering on national TV, all of whom seemed far more interested in scoring points off of their belligerent opposition than actually outlining their policy positions. On the left, you had, with the exception of three harmless also-rans, a pair of central figures—Hillary and Bernie—who had a debate about the comparative merits of capitalism and the ways in which their respective administrations would address the myriad economic and social issues facing this country.
For anyone interested in the long term health and wellness of the Democratic Party, the initial three debates of this primary season couldn’t have gone any better. Republicans showed that they had not learned their lesson from the disastrous primary slugfest in 2012 that left Mitt Romney bruised and battered for the general election, with the toupeed tornado currently leading the polls ensuring that civility would be anathema from the debate proceedings. Democrats, on the other hand, seemed to have found a productive, if not slightly uncomfortable, balance between their powerhouse establishment frontrunner and the impassioned outsider nipping at her heels. And, while their supporters don’t seem to be too fond of one another, Clinton and Sanders seem to have a good rapport with one another—or at least, enough mutual respect to prevent the sort of petulant name-calling that’s become common fare across the aisle. All bickering around the truncated debate schedule aside, it appeared that we’d have another 5 installments of more or less mano-a-mano primetime primary encounters that, while they certainly wouldn’t have been Lincoln—Douglas Redux, would have made for compelling and informative television.
At least, that was the plan until it was reported on Monday by Fox News’s White House Correspondent Ed Henry that Vice President Joe Biden had made up his mind to run for president. The three sources Henry used for his report were anonymous but, combined with other reports that said he planned announce his candidacy in the next 48 hours and that claim his associates have started interviewing campaign staff, it would seem as if Biden’s run is more likely than not at the moment. For Democrats—at least the majority of them that currently don’t plan on voting for Biden in the primaries—and many left-leaning independent voters, this is a unwelcome development. If you’re a Hillary supporter, you have to be worried about the prospect that Biden will be able to eat into your candidate’s huge lead in support among non-white voters, while those who back Sanders will be confronted with the distinct possibility that the mainstream media will, in pursuit of ratings, focus on the inevitable Clinton v. Biden dustups to the detriment of their candidate.
Regardless of his effects on the other frontrunners, it should be clear by this point in his political career that Joe Biden has pretty much zero chance of being elected president. He’s already given the presidency two cracks and failed pretty convincingly each time, with the then Delaware Senator being forced out of the 1988 Democratic primaries after a plagiarism scandal and failing to poll above 5% at any point during his second run in 2008. Granted, his popularity has certainly risen during his time as vice president, but that acclaim has always come with the knowledge that the former senator from Delaware was essentially acting as President Obama’s biggest champion in The White House. Biden’s finest moment as veep arguably came during the 2012 election, when he eviscerated Paul Ryan during the campaign’s lone vice presidential debate, rallying a Democratic base that desperately needed an injection of enthusiasm after President Obama sleepwalked his way through his 1st debate with Mitt Romney.
In this, his “Malarky Manifesto”, Biden showed everything that makes him the perfect running mate for a sober, straight-laced presidential candidate like Obama. At his best, Biden is a dogged, determined fighter who can out-scrap any politician in the country and is able to use the pathos and common ground inherent in his life’s journey to resonate with the American people.At the time, I described watching Biden go at his opposite vice presidential number as being akin to watching a Bull Mastiff that has been chained up outside and not fed for a week unleashed on an unsuspecting trespasser. It was a wonderful sight to behold and that, along with his defining, if not intentionally public, commentary on the passing of Affordable Care Act—it was a big f***ing deal—are at the core of why so many of us have a certain affection for Vice President Biden. He’s our Uncle Joe. He is quick with an encouraging word, is loyal to a fault and can be counted on to liven up any party, but he’s not the guy you necessarily want running the show.
Much of Biden’s reticence for throwing his hat into the ring is due to the unfortunate death of his son Beau, but I would also imagine a decent amount of it comes from the grilling he knows he’ll be subjected to by his opponents, especially around criminal justice reform. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from the late 80s to the mid 90s, Biden was responsible for pushing through his fair share of regrettable legislation, the most toxic piece of which was the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which put in place a series of “tough-on-crime” policies that directly led an unprecedented spike in the number of incarcerated Americans. During a time when a second civil rights movement is coalescing and the #BlackLivesMatter movement is arguably the most transformative force in contemporary politics, being one of the biggest boosters for a bill that put a disproportionate number of black and brown Americans behind bars and that introduced the 3 strikes rule into our legal system isn’t a great thing to have on your resume.
Hopefully, Joe Biden will listen to the more reasonable members of his inner circle who are cautioning an emotionally exhausted 72 year old man away from running for President again and he’ll be able to avoid such scrutiny, opting aside to ride off into the sunset as one of the most beloved vice presidents in recent memory. But I wouldn’t count on it.