AGAINST THE GRAIN

Joe Biden’s Political Moment

For the first time, the vice president looks like a more electable Democrat than Hillary Clinton.

US Vice President Joe Biden gives two thumbs-up prior to US President Barack Obama delivering the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on January 28, 2014 at the US Capitol in Washington.  
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Josh Kraushaar
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Josh Kraushaar
July 28, 2015, 4 p.m.

For Demo­crat­ic lead­ers, the polit­ic­al lo­gic of hav­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton as the party’s stand­ard bear­er in 2016 was, at least for a while, un­deni­able. Pres­id­ent Obama could main­tain mid­dling ap­prov­al rat­ings, but Clin­ton’s dis­tance from polit­ic­al life as sec­ret­ary of State gave her ample dis­tance from the pres­id­ent’s most con­tro­ver­sial policies. Voters may be look­ing for change, but Clin­ton’s bid to be­come the first fe­male pres­id­ent gave her cam­paign a his­tor­ic sheen that few oth­ers could provide. Most sig­ni­fic­antly, Clin­ton’s in­de­pend­ent brand (and re­cord of op­pos­ing cer­tain pres­id­en­tial de­cisions) would al­low her to tri­an­gu­late: dis­tance her­self from the White House when ne­ces­sary, while also sup­port­ing Obama on oth­er core is­sues.

It’s the main reas­on Obama per­son­ally praised Clin­ton when she left the Cab­in­et, and has nev­er offered any sim­il­ar polit­ic­al shout-out to his loy­al vice pres­id­ent, Joe Biden. Even if he wanted to run, Biden would have trouble broad­en­ing his sup­port bey­ond Obama’s co­ali­tion, and as an older white man, would prob­ably face chal­lenges ex­cit­ing the core of non­white voters who make up the base of Obama’s sup­port. Clin­ton, thanks to her hus­band, held more of a polit­ic­al track re­cord on that front — and had the cap­ab­il­ity of max­im­iz­ing the gender gap in the Demo­crats’ fa­vor.

(RE­LATED: The Draft Biden Move­ment)

But a funny thing happened on the way to the coron­a­tion. Throughout the sum­mer, Clin­ton has been hammered over us­ing a secret, per­son­al email serv­er as sec­ret­ary of State — one that gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials be­lieve may have com­prom­ised the coun­try’s na­tion­al se­cur­ity and al­lowed her to con­ceal (and de­lete) email cor­res­pond­ence. Mean­while, as she faces en­er­get­ic op­pos­i­tion from her party’s pro­gress­ive base, she’s de­cided to tack to the left, of­fer­ing little to dis­af­fected swing voters dis­sat­is­fied with Obama. Her cam­paign op­er­at­ives be­lieve it’s worth mo­bil­iz­ing the Demo­crat­ic Party’s as­cend­ant con­stitu­en­cies without of­fer­ing much to the (shrink­ing) num­ber of voters in the middle.

In the pro­cess, however, her fa­vor­able rat­ings have hit all-time lows, with clear ma­jor­it­ies of Amer­ic­ans say­ing they don’t like her and have trouble be­liev­ing she’s trust­worthy. In the crit­ic­al swing states of New Hamp­shire, Iowa, Col­or­ado, and Vir­gin­ia, reput­able new polls show her fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ings not much bet­ter than Don­ald Trump’s — with un­fa­vor­able rat­ings near­ing 60 per­cent. Quin­nipi­ac’s swing-state polling found her los­ing in Col­or­ado, Iowa, and Vir­gin­ia to all three lead­ing GOP can­did­ates (Jeb Bush, Marco Ru­bio, and Scott Walk­er), while NBC News/Mar­ist polling found her fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ings to be just as dis­mal in Iowa and New Hamp­shire. Na­tion­al polling doesn’t put her in much bet­ter shape, with her fa­vor­ab­il­ity still up­side-down in CNN/ORC’s new poll (45/48, among all adults). Gal­lup found her over­all fa­vor­ab­il­ity at 43/46, her worst net show­ing since their Novem­ber 2007 sur­vey. Her num­bers aren’t any bet­ter than Obama’s, and many polls are find­ing them in worse shape.

Sud­denly, if you’re Joe Biden, run­ning for pres­id­ent makes a lot more polit­ic­al sense.

(RE­LATED: Should Joe Biden Chase His Dream?)

If Obama’s former cam­paign strategists truly be­lieve that a Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate only needs to mo­bil­ize and mi­crotar­get the base to win the pres­id­ency, who bet­ter to do that than Obama’s un­fail­ingly loy­al No. 2? Biden, after all, pushed the pres­id­ent to come out for gay mar­riage against his best polit­ic­al in­stincts. He led the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s up­hill fight for gun con­trol in the wake of the Sandy Hook mas­sacre, head­ing its task force on the sub­ject. He’s helped with the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s lob­by­ing ef­fort for its Ir­an deal, pitched wary Demo­crats on the be­ne­fits of fast-track trade, and stood by the pres­id­ent’s side when he praised the Su­preme Court’s rul­ing up­hold­ing Obama­care sub­sidies.

And at a time when au­then­ti­city is a highly val­ued as­set — for bet­ter or worse — Biden boasts the nat­ur­al polit­ic­al skill set that Clin­ton clearly lacks. He’s a happy war­ri­or who en­joys cam­paign­ing and isn’t con­strained by talk­ing points or rope lines. He’s able to ham it up with uni­on rank-and-file, while also giv­ing a stem-wind­ing speech blast­ing Re­pub­lic­ans in Con­gress. His all-too-fre­quent mal­aprop­isms are en­dear­ing at a time when voters are cyn­ic­al about scrip­ted politi­cians.

(RE­LATED: Joe Biden’s New Mis­sion: Selling the Ir­an Deal)

His draw­backs are also clear: He’s get­ting old, hasn’t pre­pared for a pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, and wouldn’t have the fin­an­cial re­sources to com­pete with Clin­ton. His pres­id­en­tial cam­paign track re­cord (1988, 2008) is abysmal. But his most sig­ni­fic­ant li­ab­il­ity was that he car­ried Obama’s polit­ic­al bag­gage at a time when the pres­id­ent’s job ap­prov­al num­bers were weak. For all the hype about Biden’s abil­ity to woo work­ing-class voters, the real­ity is that Obama’s policies have been so un­pop­u­lar with white blue-col­lar voters that it’s hard to win them back. Clin­ton, on the oth­er hand, en­joyed high fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ings in her post-Cab­in­et ca­reer (for a while) and, on pa­per, boas­ted the abil­ity to rally wo­men to her side.

But Clin­ton has squandered so many prom­ising op­por­tun­it­ies that she star­ted with at the be­gin­ning of the cam­paign. In­stead of dis­tan­cing her­self from Obama’s biggest weak­ness — for­eign policy — she’s either openly or ta­citly sup­por­ted his most con­tro­ver­sial policies (Ir­an nuc­le­ar deal, Cuba out­reach, strategy against IS­IS). That’s a tac­tic­al shift from last year, when she gave a lengthy in­ter­view to The At­lantic‘s Jef­frey Gold­berg, in which she cri­ti­cized Obama’s de­cision not to in­ter­vene in Syr­ia and struck a hard line on Ir­an’s nuc­le­ar de­mands. With a cam­paign team in place, she’s ap­par­ently cal­cu­lated that the risk of ali­en­at­ing some Obama sup­port­ers was great­er than un­der­scor­ing her in­de­pend­ence.

On do­mest­ic policy, too, her reti­cence to forge her own cam­paign path from the pres­id­ent is aw­fully telling. Like Obama, she hasn’t taken a po­s­i­tion on con­struc­tion of the Key­stone XL pipeline, even though the re­view she ini­ti­ated at State con­cluded it would cause no sig­ni­fic­ant en­vir­on­ment­al harm. She awk­wardly avoided tak­ing a po­s­i­tion on the pres­id­ent’s fast-track trade-au­thor­ity le­gis­la­tion, not want­ing to ali­en­ate Obama or the party’s act­iv­ist base.

For Obama sup­port­ers, the case for Biden should be an easy one to make: He’s a lib­er­al loy­al­ist for this pres­id­ent who doesn’t shade his views with ex­cess­ive nu­ance. With Biden, there wouldn’t be mealy-mouthed hedging. He’d be an un­equi­voc­al cham­pi­on of the pres­id­ent and his agenda. And with Obama’s job ap­prov­al sta­bil­iz­ing — it’s been with­in one point of 46 per­cent in nearly every week this year — there’s a lo­gic­al, if chal­len­ging, path for an un­apo­lo­get­ic Obama cheer­lead­er to win the pres­id­ency.

First, however, Biden would have to win the nom­in­a­tion, and that’s where things get tricky. From the White House’s per­spect­ive, it’s prob­ably not worth pro­vok­ing a fam­ily feud between two can­did­ates claim­ing the Obama leg­acy. In­deed, the White House has privately dis­cour­aged Biden from run­ning — “nearly every move to ex­pand his polit­ic­al team was blocked by Obama’s sharp-el­bowed pro­tect­ors,” Politico‘s Glenn Thrush wrote in his sem­in­al Biden pro­file — and pub­licly offered him no sup­port for an­oth­er pres­id­en­tial cam­paign. Clin­ton’s email scan­dal would prob­ably have to reach dis­astrous levels for “no drama” Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials to pan­ic, and for Biden to con­sider jump­ing in the race.

This could end up be­ing one of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s biggest polit­ic­al mis­cal­cu­la­tions: go­ing all in on Hil­lary Clin­ton while neg­lect­ing the ob­vi­ous ap­peal of the vice pres­id­ent. If voters really want a third term of Obama’s policies, why not back the can­did­ate who un­abashedly rep­res­ents his vis­ion?

What We're Following See More »
LOTS TO DISCUSS
European Commission President to Visit White House
59 minutes ago
THE LATEST

With President Trump back from a trip in which he seemed to undermine European alliances while cozying up to Vladimir Putin, the White House has announced that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will visit on July 25. According to a statement, the two "will focus on improving transatlantic trade and forging a stronger economic partnership."

501(c)4 GROUPS AFFECTED
IRS Relaxes Reporting Rules for Dark Money Groups
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS
POOR REVIEWS HIDDEN FROM PUBLIC
House Launches Investigation Into VA Nursing Homes
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The House Veterans Affairs Committee has launched an investigation into care at the VA’s 133 nursing homes after learning the agency had given almost half of them the lowest possible score in secret, internal rankings. The probe follows an investigation by The Boston Globe and USA TODAY that showed 60 VA nursing homes ... rated only one out of five stars for quality last year in the agency’s own ranking system." Internal documents revealed that "patients in more than two-thirds of VA nursing homes were more likely to suffer pain and serious bedsores than their private sector counterparts, and that "VA nursing homes scored worse than private nursing homes on a majority of key quality indicators, including rates of anti-psychotic drug prescription and decline in daily living skills."

Source:
"LIGHT-TOUCH" REGULATION
House Republican Introduces Net Neutrality Legislation
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

Colorado Representative Mike Coffman has introduced a bill "that would codify free internet regulations into law" by instituting the "basic outlines of the Federal Communication Commission’s 2015 Open Internet order." Coffman's bill amends the 1934 Telecommunications Act by "banning providers from controlling traffic quality and speed and forbidding them from participating in paid prioritization programs or charging access fees from edge providers." The GOP congressman has also "signed on to a Democrat-led effort to reinstate the net neutrality rules that the FCC voted to repeal late last year."

Source:
LINKED TO NRA
DOJ Indicts Another Russian National
20 hours ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login