Beau Biden’s death from brain cancer in late May brought the nation’s sympathy to the Biden family and, somewhat improbably, offered a new rationale for a candidacy. Reports surfaced that it was Beau’s dying wish that his father make another run. Yet the tragedy also renewed doubts about whether a grieving Biden was up to the rigor of a presidential bid.
The speculation persisted, reaching an almost-comical fever pitch in recent days as Biden’s camp repeatedly left allies and reporters alike with the impression that he would make a dramatic entrance into the race. The head of the International Association of Fire Fighters, Harold Schaitberger, told reporters his union was preparing as if Biden was going to announce his candidacy. A backbench Democratic congressman tweeted that Biden was in. Reports circulated that Biden’s advisers were scouting office space in Washington.
As recently as Tuesday, the vice president delivered a speech seen as a none-too-subtle dig at Clinton. He challenged her account of the recommendations that the two of them made to Obama before the president ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, and he implicitly criticized her remark during the first Democratic debate that Republicans were her “enemies.”
But after Clinton’s solid debate performance last week and with filing deadlines rapidly approaching, Biden concluded that his window had finally closed, as he knew all along that it might. “I know from previous experience that there’s no timetable for this process,” he said. “The process doesn’t respect or much care about things like filing deadlines or debates and primaries and caucuses.”
Still, the ever-voluble Biden had some things to say, and he plans to continue saying them for the next 15 months. First and foremost, he said, Democrats should run firmly on Obama’s record. “This party, our nation, will be making a tragic mistake if we walk away or attempt to undo the Obama legacy,” Biden said. “The American people have worked too hard, and we have have come too far for that. Democrats should not only defend this record and protect this record. They should run on the record.”
The vice president then outlined the platform he would have run on, had he run. Many of the items are similar if not identical to proposals that Obama, Clinton, and Bernie Sanders have already made. It would center on lifting up the middle class and reducing income equality. Biden would have pursued campaign-finance reform, criminal-justice reform, free public-college tuition, and a more progressive tax code.
If there was a difference, it was a difference in tone, and it echoed the promise of fixing Washington that Obama made eight years ago but—whether the fault was his or not—could never deliver on. “I believe that we have to end the divisive partisan politics that is ripping this country apart,” Biden said. “And I think we can. It’s mean spirited, it’s petty, and it’s gone on for much too long.”