Vice President Joe Biden, urged on by his family and encouraged by many longtime supporters, has given himself until the end of the summer to decide if he will make another run for president in 2016. It may not be a deeply analytical chore for a politician who likes to follow his instincts. In the end, all that may matter to him is that this is the last chance to reach for his dream.
But more detached Democrats are taking a less-emotional look at the situation. Their list of pros and cons shows that Biden faces a very tough road to the party's nomination. They are well aware that in almost every cycle, there is a well-known candidate who is at his highest in the polls before he announces his candidacy and only sinks when his flaws are uncovered in the harsh spotlight of a national campaign. They well remember Fred Thompson, Wesley Clark, John Glenn, Frank Church, Bob Kerrey, Phil Gramm, and Rudy Giuliani. None lived up to their billing. As one veteran Democratic strategist told National Journal, "The negatives outweigh the positives—big time."
Here are the top five positives and negatives for a Biden candidacy:
1. He is, inarguably, authentic at a time when the public craves someone genuine and free of artifice. He could tap into that craving without the bullying overtones of Chris Christie. The New Jersey governor boasts that, "I mean what I say, and I say what I mean. And that's what America needs right now." Biden could say the same thing without it sounding like a threat. Biden may be one of the few longtime officeholders who has few enemies. People like him even when they disagree with him. He has easily survived the big stumble of his 1988 campaign when he appropriated part of the life story of a British politician. It's a misstep that looks pretty modest by today's standards.
2. He is not Hillary. With each botched interview and each Clinton Foundation/foreign-government revelation and each brittle performance by Hillary Clinton, Democrats grow more anxious. Many of them might welcome a real alternative rather than an aging socialist who wants to raise taxes or a little-known former governor best known for having actually raised lots of taxes.
3. He has a stellar resume. The vice president could argue that he would make government work. Clinton's resume is great. But no one in either party can match the length and heft of Biden's resume—44 unbroken years in public office: two years in local government, 35 years in the Senate, seven years as vice president. After seeing what happens with two consecutive presidents inexperienced in Washington, this kind of experience could be attractive to voters. Plus, in an age of polarization, he has shown he can work across the aisle.
4. He may be the only candidate in either party who can't be accused of enriching himself during his career in public service. He is free of scandal. There won't be the news stories that seem to dog just about every other candidate. There is a reason why he long was considered the least wealthy member of the Senate.
5. He connects easily with the working class and middle class. Cynics groan when he talks about growing up in Scranton or taking the train in Delaware. But he knew tough times as a kid and he won't make gaffes about urging Americans to work longer hours or declaring his family "dead broke" when millions were coming in from paid speeches. A common touch never hurt any candidate.
1. He's old. Biden must know, as John Glenn once told him, that there is "no cure for the common birthday" and that he already may be too old to be a serious contender. He's a survivor of two near-fatal brain aneurysms who would be 74 on Inauguration Day, making him by five years the oldest first-term president in history. (Reagan was 69, James Buchanan was 65, and George H.W. Bush was 64 at the start of the presidencies.) If Clinton says "yesterday," then Biden screams the last century.
2. By the nature of the job, vice presidents look weak. It is a servile job, filled with indignities, funerals, and ceremonial tasks. Even the vice presidents treated with respect by their presidents and given real duties suffered. Ask Walter Mondale and Al Gore. Even Bush I, whose bravery was demonstrated in war, had to defend himself against unfair charges that he was a "wimp." It doesn't help that Obama saddled Biden with what Politico's Glenn Thrush once called the administration's "lost causes," putting him in charge of selling the unpopular stimulus in 2009, the doomed jobs bill, and the modest stab at gun control.
3. Too many people can't take him seriously. It is a fate suffered by many vice presidents. Democrats once ran an ad against Spiro Agnew that just included 20 seconds of nonstop laughter with the tagline: "This would be funny if it weren't so serious." Dan Quayle never was able to be taken seriously. It is very tough for any vice president to overcome what Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post once called "the too jokey/too gaffe-prone-to-be-taken-seriously narrative." Sen. Ted Cruz had to apologize for his meanness for going after Biden while he was mourning the death of his son. But there was an element of unfortunate truth in what Cruz said about Biden: "You don't need a punch line "¦ The next party you're at, just walk up to someone and say, 'Vice President Joe Biden' and just close your mouth. They will crack up laughing."
4. Along with the long resume come hundreds of votes that can be used against him. Expect to see lot of repetition of the biting criticism from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Gates wrote in his book Duty that Biden has been "wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades." His list included aid to Vietnam, the Shah of Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and a variety of weapons systems. Foreign policy is supposed to be Biden's area of strength. But he can't even share credit with President Obama on the killing of Osama bin Laden because he tried to talk Obama out of the mission.
5. He has run twice before and shown himself to be a very bad candidate who can't raise money or put together a winning organization. He was likable and endearing but unable to organize any aspect of either an event or the larger campaign. This may be an instance where the long Washington resume works against him. His strength is being a Washington insider but that gets in his way in places such as Iowa and New Hampshire. In a moment of frustration during his losing 2008 bid, he insisted to Iowans that he was a better senator than Clinton, Obama, and John Edwards. He complained that Edwards "only passed four bills (and) they're all about post offices—I mean literally." Obama, he added, "hasn't passed any bills." And of Clinton, he said, "There's not a major bill I know with Hillary's name on it." Iowans yawned. Unimpressed with his bill-passing prowess inside the Beltway, they left him for dead in fifth place. It was enough to end his campaign.
But in a possible sign of things to come when he makes his decision about 2016, he announced that he had "not one single, solitary ounce of regret" about running and declared, "I ain't going away."
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
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