Commentary: What Will Happen If Joe Biden Runs For President

Vice President Joe Biden (Andrew Harnik/AP/File)
Vice President Joe Biden (Andrew Harnik/AP/File)

As Vice President Joe Biden weighs whether to enter the 2016 presidential race, WBUR’s Democratic political analyst Dan Payne breaks down what will happen if he does. 

He will not win. He may be enjoying popularity right now, but he’s living in a national sympathy cocoon, ever since Maureen Dowd wrote in The New York Times that his dying son’s last wish was for his father to run. In the Washington, D.C. echo chamber it seems “everyone” loves him. Once he becomes a candidate, he will be just another politician, available for criticism and ridicule. This will be his third try for the presidency; he knows what he’s in for.

He will be attacked. Not right away, but sooner than he’d like, he’ll be roughed up by Republicans, the news media, and his Democratic rivals. He will be in an attack-free zone for a few weeks, then he will be a target just like every other candidate. His legacy, such as it is, and new-found halo will disappear.

His rationale will be troublesome. As Bill Scher wrote in Real Clear Politics, Biden’s message amounts to, “I want the job and Hillary Clinton is in the way.” He has said nothing to convince the Clintons that his contemplation is not related to Hillary’s sagging poll numbers. What’s his case against her?

He will have to defend the Obama Administration; not just the things he worked on. He will have to defend everything that President Obama has said and done. He will be the surrogate for Obama and that will make him a fetching target as opponents and reporters seek out differences with the boss. For example, what will he say about the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the threat from ISIS?

He will get hurt by history. He will have to relive his 1988 presidential campaign in which he was forced to quit because it was discovered that he stole the biography of British politician Neil Kinnock and called it his own.

He will again commit gaffes. He seems to have no edit button for his mouth, a quality now being lauded as candid and authentic. This will lead him to say whatever comes to mind — as vice president, on the campaign trail, on network news, to local reporters, and potentially most damaging, in debates.

He won’t be able to skip Iowa and New Hampshire. Not only are they testing grounds, but they will generate the lion’s share of political news. Candidates who have tried end-runs around early primaries discover that voters in later states are not waiting for them. He’s way behind in organizing in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada and elsewhere.

He will learn that this election is not about him; it’s about us. People will take pity on him and admire his spunk but eventually he will be expected to say why his election will be good for the country, not just his spirits. A campaign is not grief therapy; it’s a real world contest of ideas. Even Donald Trump offers ideas, no matter how nutty they are.

He may not be able to raise enough money. The pledges of financial support he or his backers are getting today are not permanent. Ask Rick Perry and Scott Walker. Biden’s biggest deficit is the time he’s already lost. Right now, the only people he hears from – and this is true for every presidential candidate – are those who for various reasons want him to run. They will fade into the wood work if his poll numbers start to slide.

He will not recognize modern presidential campaigns with 24-hour news cycles, social media sniping, superPACs, vicious critics on the radio and blogs, and issues he may not want to discuss, such as opioid addiction, Black Lives Matter protests, Planned Parenthood, ISIS, Trumpian attacks on illegal immigrants, crime, gun control, etc.

His candidacy will light a fire under Hillary. She and her supporters will see (or argue) his late entry as an attack on a woman presidential candidate. He will pay a price with female political activists and organizations. Right now, he’s seen as harmless Uncle Joe struggling with grief. Soon, he could become a man who felt he could dislodge a woman who can’t explain her emails.

His penchant for windbaggery will not disappear. Before his son’s death, he was routinely satirized by “Saturday Night Live” and comedians as someone who talks endlessly. At the 2014 St. Patrick’s Day breakfast in Boston, which he called into, he droned on so long that Rep. Steve Lynch wisecracked when Biden finally hung up: “I hope he didn’t call collect.”

He will learn the Democratic party has changed. He’s the toast of the Morning Joe and Chris Matthews TV shows, and is highly sought after to speak before various Irish groups. But Irish Catholics, labor union rank and file, Jews, and traditional ethnic elements of the Democratic coalition are not a reliable block of votes in 2015 to be delivered to an Irish Catholic Democrat with working class roots. Today’s Democratic party is female, professional, black and Hispanic.

Dan Payne is a Democratic political analyst for WBUR and a regular contributor to the Boston Globe

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