Now that the chattering class has reminded itself — and its readers, viewers, etc. — just how formidable a candidate Hillary Clinton is, now that the whispers about bad moments have been replaced by the enthusiastic exchange of one rave after another, now that the doubters have let out a sigh of relief, the question that obviously presents itself is “What about Joe?” Or to be more honest, and offer a taste of what is to come, “Who needs Joe?”
I keep getting asked if the vice president wants to be president. Does a man who has twice sought the top job, who has sat by the side of his sometimes brilliant, sometimes tone-deaf incumbent partner, and been both loyal and honest, does this man, whose beloved son’s dying wish was reportedly that his father run (I wish we didn’t know that), does this man want to be president?
Of course he does.
We used to have a joke back in Boston (actually, it was a Chicago line) that every alderman sees a president when he shaves in the morning. These days, I like to think that every senator sees a president when she puts on her makeup. Same difference. You can be president when you grow up. Well, that’s not exactly true.
But Joe made it to the Senate in his 30s, and captured the nation’s heart as he took the oath of office at the bedside of his hospitalized sons, having lost his wife and baby daughter in a car accident while they were out Christmas shopping. Joe has a better shot than most.
And when you’re surrounded by some of the smartest, most loyal people in American politics, as Joe Biden is, you know how this game is played. I had to smile with admiration watching some of the moves — the meeting with the DNC, no doubt to ask for neutrality and equal treatment, something no other candidate would have the stature to raise, the noisy research into filing deadlines to buy more time to make the decision. Some of those same people were on the other side, back in the day, skewing the DNC to Carter and then to Mondale. They know the game as well as anyone.
Which means that they know that the biggest challenge facing the vice president right now is not the mechanics of mounting a presidential campaign; although Clinton is ahead on everything, the minute the VP were to jump in, the press would have the head-on, real contest they want, and they’d give him some room to catch up on those things. And there would be enough smart lawyers to get him on ballots. Biden could do it. Logistics are not the question. No, the real question is: Why?
It’s not because the Party needs him. Barack Obama notwithstanding, the conventional wisdom — that the earlier your party chooses your nominee and the less bloody the fight is on the way, the more likely you are to win — still holds true most of the time.
It’s not because liberals need him. The issue here is definitely not ideology. Bernie Sanders’ supporters are bristling at the establishment embrace of Clinton in the wake of instant polls showing significant support for Sanders. But Biden will hardly be coming at the former secretary from a hard left position. As it is now OK to say what could cost you an election in the old days: They are both liberal Democrats.
Why should Joe put himself through the kind of process that nearly killed him in 1988 (had he suffered that aneurysm on the trail), the kind of process in which everything he’s ever said would get thrown back in his face, where he would likely go from being one of the most admired politicians in America to just another ambitious Joe who believed what he saw in the mirror?