There’s one thing pundits seem to agree on in the last few months. Joe Biden is eager to run for President once again. Politico had a piece about Biden’s 2016 maneuvering.
Biden, according to a number of advisers and Democrats who have spoken to him in recent months, wants to run, or at least be well positioned to run, if and when he decides to pull the trigger. Biden has expressed a clear sense of urgency, convinced the Democratic field will be defined quickly — and that it might very well come down to a private chat with Hillary Clinton about who should finish what Barack Obama started.
“He’s intoxicated by the idea, and it’s impossible not to be intoxicated by the idea,” said a Democrat close to the White House. And the intoxication is hardly new. Officials working on the Obama-Biden campaign last year were struck by how the vice president always seemed to have one eye on a run, including aggressively courting the president’s donors. Obama aides at times had to actively steer Biden to places where he was needed — like Pennsylvania — because he kept asking to be deployed to Iowa, New Hampshire and other early states.
One thing became abundantly clear during the past several days of inauguration festivities in Washington, D.C.: Joe Biden is running for president in 2016.
Ok, Biden isn’t technically in the race. (Technically, there isn’t a race yet either.) And, of course, minds can change between now and 2016. But, Biden is doing everything that someone who is planning to run would do. Everything.“In a couple years he is going to take a hard look at it,” acknowledged Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden of his father’s interest in running for president during an interview on MSNBC this morning. But, Biden appears to already be taking that “hard look.”
Consider the following:
* Biden — with Beau, a major rising star in both Delaware and nationally, in tow — not only stopped by the Iowa State Society’s inaugural ball on Saturday night but also delivered this gem of a line: “I am proud to be president of the United States, but I am prouder to be Barack — I mean, excuse me.” (He quickly corrected himself to note he was/is proud to be President Obama’s vice president.) As we have said before, no politician goes to Iowa — or to the Iowa State Society inaugural ball — by accident. It just doesn’t happen.
* Biden invited New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan to attend his private swearing-in for a second term on Sunday at the vice presidential residence. New Hampshire, as you might remember, plays a pretty important role in the presidential primary process.
* Biden was in full Biden mode during the inaugural parade on Monday, working the crowd in a way that had “Vote for Me!” written all over it.
The invisible primary has already started, with governors and senators posturing for a possible run. This was the process that winnowed out Mark Warner and Evan Bayh from the 2008 democratic presidential primary, as well as John Thune and Haley Barbour from the 2012 republican primary. So Biden sends a clear message to his potential competitors as well as the top campaign advisers in the country.
If he remains healthy, he’ll be a top contender for the nomination. I would imagine that he would be a weaker candidate than Humphrey in 1968, or Gore in 2000, simply because of his age. There isn’t great interest in nominating a gaffe-prone elderly Irishman.
Biden would still have a strong chance of winning the nomination. One question is whether it’s worth it, since so few Vice Presidents have been elected President. The list includes John Adams, Martin Van Buren, Richard Nixon and George HW Bush. Nixon also failed in his first bid as a presidential candidate. Presumably, Biden would not have the option of running again eight years later.
However, politicians will try to defy history. Since 1896, there has only been one time that a party that gained the White House has failed to hold it for at least two terms: Jimmy Carter in 1980. Yet, we had a few Republicans who ran against Obama in 2012. No Floridian has ever won a major party nomination for President or Vice President. But Rubio is expected to make a go in 2016. Unless Jeb wants it.
No small-state Governor ever became President. Until Clinton did it. No President’s son ever got reelected President. Until George W Bush did it. No fourth-year Senator ever became President. Until Obama did it.
The problem for ambitious Vice Presidents is that the position has increased in power and prestige, at around the same time voters decided that parties should hold the White House for two terms, and then no more. This rule explains all but two elections since the 50s. Both exceptions involved Reagan, in 1980 and in 1988.
Aaron Blake of the Post considers the Veeps who have ran for president and lost: Nixon in 1960. Humphrey in 1968. Mondale in 1984. Gore in 2000. However, all of them won the nomination. The problem is that someone well-positioned to be the nominee after the party has been in power for two terms is likely to lose in a system in which voters have a tendency to switch to the other party after two terms. It’s not that Biden would have problems in the general election. It’s that anyone the Democrats nominate would.
Biden, or whoever Democrats nominate, has two hopes. He could still win if there are extraordinary circumstances. Perhaps there’s amazing news right before the election. The Republican nominee could screw up, have a sex scandal, or an Akin-like gaffe. The party has thrown away five senate seats, with atrocious unelectable nominees Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Ken Buck, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock. Some tea party nut could have won a few early primaries with some early momentum, just as Joe Miller’s primary victory in Alaska gave the Tea Party Express candidate momentum in Delaware. In that case, Biden could find himself facing the weakest general election candidate since George McGovern.
The other scenario is that we’re in an age of Democratic control of the white house. I considered this prospect before. It’s possible that this has started with Clinton’s 1992 win, just as Nixon’s 1968 win led to a six term stretch in which Republicans won five of six presidential elections, with Carter sneaking in for the one close election. If this is the case, then the democratic presidential nomination is certainly worth winning for a man who has sought it twice before.