August 15th, 2020


Twenty-Plus Dems Running For President, Or Joe Biden Running Against . . . Joe Biden?

Bill Whalen

By Bill Whalen

Published April 30, 2019

Twenty-Plus Dems Running For President, Or Joe Biden Running Against . . . Joe Biden?
One wise thing about Joe Biden waiting until late in the week to announce his presidential plans: he gets to dominate the political discourse over the weekend, as he has the past couple of days since he dropped his video.

Allow me to add chime in.

Let's begin with the question of whom the former vice president is — or, more to the point, which past presidential candidate he most closely resembles? One school of thought: Hillary Clinton.

Why? Because, as with Hillary in 2016, Biden now gets to relive the greatest hits of the ‘90's. So far, that's centered around his Anita Hill non-apology. We'll see if reporters take Biden to task for fudging his war record (he voted for the Iraq war resolution, but would have you believe he was anti-war all the way). And there's the 1994 federal crime bill that also ensnared Hillary over the question of racial justice.

Personally, I think the better parallel is Jeb Bush (and I'm not alone in this thought).

In April 2015, the case for Jeb! was pretty much the same as Joe (no exclamation point): familiarity, experience, electability (Bush winning back Latinos; Biden winning back blue-collar Democrats).

The problem then — and maybe now: it wasn't the bland product primary voters craved. This ties into my theory that Bernie Sanders is in fact a Trump Version 2.0 — an interloper feeding off nonconformity, economic resentment and intra-party grievances . . . and growing stronger with his devout followers every time a party regular suggests the nomination would be disastrous.

A second line of conversation this weekend: polls.

At the moment, Biden tops Sanders nationally. And he leads Trump. Over at, Nate Silver makes the point that, in the post-WII era, vice presidents who sought their party's nomination (Nixon, Humphrey, Mondale, the elder Bush, Gore) did pretty well.

But taking stock in April polls the year before a presidential vote is a game for April fools — especially when it comes to out-of-power Democrats.

The Democratic frontrunner in April 2007: Hillary Clinton. In April 2003: Joe Lieberman. In April 1991: Jesse Jackson. In April 1987: Gary Hart. In April 1983: Walter Mondale (ok, that one worked out). In April 1975: Ted Kennedy. In April 1971: Edmund Muskie.

A third topic likely to come up in weekend conversation: the Obama factor.

Biden's former ticket-mate doesn't plan to endorse a candidate during the early stages of the process (Biden's claim that he asked the 44th president not to offer his blessing — "whoever wins this nomination should win it on their own merits" — is laughably bad spin).

Obama's aloofness is smart politics for at least two reasons: (a) an Obama endorsement of Biden, or any other non-Vermont non-democratic socialist for that matter, allows Bernie to revise and revisit "the fix is in" talk from 2016; (b) with the presidency comes stature — and it's a blow to Obama's stature if he endorses a Democrats who's roadkill by the first week in March 2020.

Still, one wonders what both Obamas privately think.

Back in late February, while on her book tour, Michelle Obama said that she and her husband wanted to prop up "[the] next generation of leaders." That doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement of Biden, whose first presidential run in 1987 — the first of two White House flame-outs — coincided with Barack Obama getting his driver's license.

Maybe the Obamas are working behind the scenes to help Biden — steering money his way, or privately discouraging Biden's rivals from making personal attacks (though the latter sounds unfeasible — good luck telling Bernie to "play nice"). But the lack of enthusiasm is curious, as is the Democratic field's disinterest in wanting to run as an extension of the Obama legacy.

So where does this leave us?

The Democratic field now stands at 22 (that's if you count every man, woman and gadfly who's filed papers). Obviously, some candidates stand a better chance of others (all you have to do is look at money raised and so-called "lanes" currently occupied).

But there's also a race within the race — Joe Biden running against himself.

Biden can't claim seniority in this contest, or so his birth certificate dictates (he was born in November 1942, 14 months after Sanders).

But Biden towers over the field in terms of gravitas: eight years as the nation's 47th vice president; 36 years as a U.S. senator. Add personal suffering endured (a wife and baby daughter killed in a car crash; an adult son lost to brain cancer) and there's a completeness to life that's missing in most other candidacies.

Grief gives Biden a compelling narrative. Coupled with decades of debating big issues, it leaves him with a choice now that he's decided to compete in a political age defined by the three "T's" of Trump, Twitter and testiness: challenge his rivals (and the media) to stop re-litigating the past and focus instead on the future; or surrender to social media and revisionist political correctness and become just one more candidate rooting in that sty of invectives and incivility.

A debate featuring nearly two dozen Democrats?

I'd rather listen to Biden argue with Biden over which way Joe should go.