If the captain and the crew are running for the lifeboats, it could be the strongest possible indication that the ship is in trouble. If Joe Biden runs for president, it could be the clearest statement that the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton is serious, that the Justice Department won't back off prosecuting and that the president is unhappy with his former secretary of State as a candidate for the White House.
These interlocking conclusions flow from a basic question: Why would Biden run against a primary candidate now getting 54 percent of the vote in a three-way field in one poll (ABC/The Washington Post) and 49 percent in another (NBC/ The Wall Street Journal)?
The undeclared vice president finished third in both polls, at 16 percent in the former survey and at 15 percent in the latter.
For Biden to risk a third defeat for president, he must know something we don't.
According to Ed Klein, in both of his books, "Blood Feud" and "Unlikeable," highly reliable sources from the top three Democratic camps Hillary Clinton's, Bill Clinton's and President Obama's indicate that the former first lady and her husband believe that the email investigation by the FBI has gotten a green light from the White House. In fact, Klein quotes Obama as saying that the scandal is Hillary Clinton's fault for ignoring his warnings and his policy against private servers. Klein goes so far as to say that the Clintons believe there will be an indictment but hope it will not happen until after the Democratic front-runner has clinched her party's nomination.
The Justice Department will have a difficult decision to make if the emails unearthed by the FBI show that Clinton broke the law by allowing classified information to be received, stored or sent on her private server while at State. There would be, understandably, a huge reluctance to indict the likely Democratic nominee, particularly if the only alternative is the unelectable Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
The situation is reminiscent of 1973, when Congress was reluctant to impeach Richard Nixon because lawmakers were afraid to leave the nation in the hands of then-Vice President Spiro Agnew. When Agnew was indicted and resigned as VP, Nixon appointed Gerald Ford to fill his place and impeachment became possible.
The circumstances dictate that we see Biden's candidacy in the same light.
Biden would not just be declaring his candidacy and entering a race in which he is a big underdog. He would be providing the Democratic Party with indictment insurance, as surely as Gerald Ford protected his party in 1973.
But even without an indictment, Biden could well upend Clinton if and only if he gets strong African-American support. In the most recent poll by John McLaughlin and Associates, Clinton got 50 percent of the black vote to Biden's 25 percent. Sanders got only 7 percent. African-Americans cast 25 percent of the Democratic Primary vote only if they could be weaned from their loyalty to Clinton would the vice president have a chance.
Enter Obama. Only the backing of the president could bring about such a transformation of the African-American vote. Even if, at the time, people said Bill Clinton was the first black president of the United States, it took the prospect of a real one to defeat his wife in 2008. The conclusion is simple: Biden cannot win without Obama's support and will not run unless he gets assurances of his backing.
If Obama supports Biden, he has to deliver the nomination to him. To fail to do so would be, in effect, to suffer a key defeat in his own party, a stain on his record as president that would be hard to erase. Just think, for example, of the consequences for Ronald Reagan's reputation if his vice president, George H.W. Bush, lost the primary of 1988 or for Bill Clinton's if Al Gore had been defeated by Bill Bradley in 2000.
If Biden runs, it will signal that he has checked things out and that all these chips are likely to fall his way. Otherwise, running makes no sense.