Joe Biden ran for president twice, in 1988 and 2008, but he never made it through the background noise.
When he accepted the vice presidency in 2008, people assumed that it marked the end of his presidential ambitions.
After all, he will be 74 in 2016, five years older than anyone who has ever successfully run for president.
Yet, the weakness of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and a lack of other top-tier contenders have presented Joe Biden with an unequalled opportunity.
A Unique Appeal
Biden was well qualified for the presidency even in 1988, and is even more so now.
Elected to the Senate in 1972, he served first as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and then as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, acquiring contacts and expertise in both fields.
He was not, however, regarded as an intellectual giant. Biden was accused of plagiarizing speeches from the British Labor Party politician Neil Kinnock in 1988, and was regarded as an over-loquacious lightweight contender in 2008.
But when Barack Obama needed an older figure with good, blue-collar credentials, and who could work with Congress, Biden was an obvious and solid choice as vice president.
Whereas older voters see Biden as something of a bumbler, Millennials have a high regard for him.
Unlike the chilly Obama, Biden has proven himself capable of cutting a deal with Republican Congressional leadership on several occasions. Most notably negotiating the fiscal compromise of December 2012 that ended by halving the federal deficit and restoring fiscal stability.
Thus, to younger voters, Biden appears to be a sensible, pragmatic choice with a down-to-earth understanding of the population’s needs and an ability to get things done.
Scandal Clears the Room
Biden has made few moves towards running for president this coming year. That’s partly because of family tragedy – his son Beau Biden died in June. But the 1988 and 2008 losses were also clearly bruising. Presumably, Biden doesn’t wish to enter the race only to suffer another ego-damaging defeat.
But the partial implosion of Clinton’s campaign has given him an unexpected opportunity.
You see, Clinton’s candidacy deterred any other Democrats more formidable than the obscure ex-Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and the eccentric leftist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Had she not run, a troupe of younger, more exciting candidates would have most certainly pushed Biden to the sidelines yet again.
Now, Clinton is beset by scandals surrounding fundraising and the emails she deleted during her tenure as Secretary of State.
O’Malley doesn’t seem to have benefited from her troubles, but Sanders has gained a boost in the polls. The latest average quoted on RealClearPolitics is 21%. This is still quite small compared to Clinton’s 56%. Biden, who is currently a non-candidate, is running at a surprisingly strong 13%.
If the scandals blow over, Clinton will presumably coast to the Democratic nomination and remain a formidable rival to the Republican nominee, whoever he or she is.
But, it’s possible the scandals will run on for Clinton.
Federal Judge Andrew Napolitano has demanded “on penalty of perjury” that Clinton testify on the contents and disposal of her State Department emails. The Republican-controlled Senate Homeland Security Committee is also making enquiries.
On the fundraising side, there appears to be enough money flowing through the Clinton Foundation from questionable sources that new and unpleasant revelations will appear from time to time. If Clinton gets the Democrat nomination, she may be a vulnerable candidate against a strong Republican. (Not that there’s any assurance of getting one, or of preventing Donald Trump from running a third-party campaign that would siphon off Republican votes.)
Biden can probably afford to wait a few more weeks, but not longer. The filing deadlines for next spring’s primaries prevent him from jumping in any later than the beginning of October.
If Clinton’s scandals worsen or her ratings decline further, Biden has a golden opportunity to jump in as the savior of the Democrat Party. He would pick up support rapidly from the declining Clinton, and gain the nomination almost by acclamation. Biden would then have an excellent chance against a weak Republican, such as Jeb Bush.
Head to Head
A Clinton-Bush confrontation would certainly produce a record low turnout, as voters would be repelled by the dynastic nature of the contest. But Biden could plausibly run against Bush as both a new face and a continuation of Obama’s policies in the international and security area where they have considerable support.
Biden would have more difficulty against a new face, such as Rick Perry, Scott Walker, or Marco Rubio. Their fresh debating agility might exceed his, but there’s a good chance the Republican nominating process would save him from this problem.
In terms of voter blocs, Biden wouldn’t have Obama’s appeal to African Americans, nor Clinton’s to women. But he might well pick up support among Millennials who regard him as an ideal combination of a foreign policy dove with good negotiating skills and few ideological hang-ups.
Joe Biden thought opportunity would knock for him in 1988 and 2008, but it didn’t. This time, if he plays his cards cleverly, there’s a chance he might win the entire game.