If it were not for the air of unreality being cast over the 2016 presidential election by the candidacy of Donald Trump, it’s probable we would not be hearing so much about a non-candidacy: that of the Vice President of the United States. But at a time when anything seems possible, Joe Biden is the subject of a draft campaign that appears to be vast and pervasive.
How pervasive? Well, it’s thought to have enlisted Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is rumored to be mulling a deal that would make her Biden’s 2016 runningmate in exchange for a one-term pledge that would make her a semi-incumbent in 2020. The White House seems complicit as well, with spokesman Josh Earnest expressing the president’s great confidence in Biden as a politician, even as Obama is said to have given his “permission” for a Biden run.
Behind these active forces are presumably both elite and rank-and-file Democrats “worried” or “fretful” or even “panicked” about the presidential prospects of frontrunner Hillary Clinton, relieved at the thought of good ol’ lovable Joe Biden stepping in to save the day.
Wonder who will be in his Cabinet, and then who will stay on with Warren in 2021….Wait! Stop the madness!
All this speculation is second- or third-hand and unsourced, with the exception of a few quotes from famed media manipulator Dick Harpootlian of South Carolina. The meeting between Biden and Warren–between the president of the Senate and a senator, to put it another way–could have been about anything or nothing. There are zero indications Warren’s fans are the least bit interested in Biden; they are mostly already signed up to ride with Bernie Sanders, and probably remember Biden was on the wrong side in the battle over bankruptcy “reform” that really launched Warren’s national career.
And of course the White House spokesman, when pressed, is going to say nice things about the number two figure in the administration. For that matter, why should Joe Biden go out of his way to make a Sherman Statement disclaiming any interest in a presidential run five months before a single vote is cast?
So much for the supply side of the equation. What about the demand side?
Notwithstanding attributions of “panic,” and despite heavy, heavy negative press for months now, Hillary Clinton is maintaining a lead over all potential Republican nominees in the RealClearPolitics polling averages. In the last national poll to be released, from CNN/ORC, she led Bush by nine points, Fiorina by ten points, and Walker and Trump by six points. In the Democratic nomination contest, she’s leading Sanders nationally two-to-one, even though pollsters are choosing to muddy the waters by including Biden in the surveys, and is leading Bernie in every state other than (in some polls) New Hampshire. Biden’s running a weak third at around 12 percent. Having run twice before and failed dismally twice before, amid signs he did not or could not raise the kind of money needed for a serious candidacy, he’s not exactly a natural magnet for moneyed or tenured elites, either.
The more you look at the Biden bandwagon, it looks more like a ghost ship being pulled through the mist by a combination of hungry political reporters, Hillary haters (including most of the conservative media), and Delaware-based Friends of Joe who, of course, would love to see him run. Plus there’s Harpootlian!
Now as Michael Tomasky pointed out this week, Biden (with or without Warren) as a fallback contingency for the Democratic Party in case all the fears about HRC actually do materialize is one thing. Leaping into the race now would be not a rescue, but a demolition mission. For starters, it would be received bitterly by the many Democratic women who figured HRC’s final assault on the political glass ceiling was a natural follow-up to Obama’s historic presidency. And worse yet, it’s hard to imagine Biden would have any compelling rationale for a candidacy that did not depend on feeding MSM and GOP attacks on her character.
To the extent that there are some voices Biden listens to on this matter, whether it’s Obama’s or vox populi, let’s hope they are telling him to stay well to this side of the failsafe point no matter how many reports pop up at Politico flattering him on his prospects. Should HRC’s candidacy crash and burn before Iowa, let the party as a whole sort it out and choose its own rescuer. If Bernie Sanders defeats her in the Caucuses and primaries, let him reap the rewards of his own remarkable campaign. And more likely, if Clinton can overcome the obstacles before her, real and imaginary, the last thing Democrats need is some deus ex machina lurching onto the stage at a crucial moment. Let the Republicans enjoy all the drama.
Ed Kilgore is the principal blogger for Washington Monthly’s Political Animal blog, Managing Editor of The Democratic Strategist, and a Senior Fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Earlier he worked for three governors and a U.S. Senator. He can be followed on Twitter at @ed_kilgore.