No one in the world expects Joe Biden to run for president again. Except, that is, Joe Biden himself. Maybe.
"Yeah I am. I am going to run, in 2020," Biden said, jokingly, during a visit to Capitol Hill on Monday. But then, in classic Biden fashion, he sort-of, kind-of suggested he was actually semi-serious. "I'm not committing to not running," he said. "I'm not committing to anything. I learned a long time ago fate has a strange way of intervening."
That's sort of like telling your boss you quit as a joke and when he/she asks if you are actually quitting you say in a deadly-serious voice: "I'm not sure. I might."
Let's start here: Biden has a long history of, well, just saying stuff. This is almost certainly that. I would be stunned if he ran for president in 2020 at age 78. And I think he would be too. As in, I think Biden is just talking here, not actually offering up a purposeful trial balloon to test a candidacy.
But there are a bunch of reasons unique to Biden for why he just doesn't (or can't) totally foreclose the possibility of running again.
Foremost among them is the death of his eldest son, Beau, in May 2015. Beau's death came at a time in which Biden was actively considering a run for president. When he ultimately decided not to run in October 2015, he cited the impact of Beau's death on his decision. "As the family and I have worked through the -- the grieving process, I've said all along what I've said time and again to others: that it may very well be that that process, by the time we get through it, closes the window on mounting a realistic campaign for president," Biden said, with President Barack Obama by his side. "That it might close. I've concluded it has closed."
What that statement didn't say is that he didn't want to run for president. It said he thought his chance to run and win had passed. In the months that followed, Biden repeatedly told interviewers that the decision not to run haunted him. "I regret it every day," he told the Associated Press in January. That regret was born -- at least in part -- out of a desire to fulfill his dying son's hope that he might run for and be elected to the White House. Regrets like that don't simply go away. And time doesn't necessarily make them any less vivid.
The other major reason for why Biden won't shut the door is that he would badly like to be president. How do I know? He's run for the office in his own right twice before -- 1988 and 2008. The best predictor of whether someone will run for president again is whether they have run for president already. It's not the sort of thing that you get rid of. Cheering crowds, national spotlight, the hustle and bustle of a campaign -- it's all addictive. It's why Mitt Romney thought about running a third time in 2016 and why Al Gore was weighing a candidacy in 2004.
That's especially true for someone like Biden, who has spent the last eight years right next to the presidency, watching how it's done up close. Now more than ever he likely feels he could do the job and do it better than anyone else who might run. And the simple truth is that the Democratic bench is very thin right now and a Biden candidacy -- or the prospect of a Biden candidacy -- might be the sort of thing that would help the party feel a bit better about itself and its prospects heading into the next national election.
So Biden knows he can do the job. He's always wanted to be president. It would be a way to fulfill his late son's wishes. And the window that he thought would be shut for the next eight years is suddenly wide open. It would be hard for anyone in a similar position to issue a blanket denial of any interest in running for president. That is not the same thing, of course, as actually committing to run for the office.
Saying goodbye to a dream -- especially one you've held for as long as Biden has this one -- isn't an easy or slow process. That's why Biden isn't ruling anything out just yet no matter how remote the prospect of a third run for president might be. I get it.