Joe Biden, like at least 33 other vice presidents and 325 million other Americans, may have missed his chance to be president. Or has he? Not everyone has given up on the notion that it could still happen somehow—including, the politics desk of the New York Times wrote, Joe Biden himself.
The Times reported that Biden is still thinking about entering the 2020 campaign, which means he is talking to donors about entering the 2020 campaign. The Times described a conversation:
In one of his calls over the holidays, Mr. Biden repeated a variation of a line he has used publicly: “If you can persuade me there is somebody better who can win, I’m happy not to do it,” he said, according to the Democrat he spoke to, who shared the conversation on condition of anonymity to discuss a private talk.
But then Mr. Biden said something he has not stated so bluntly in public: “But I don’t see the candidate who can clearly do what has to be done to win.”
What does “clearly do what has to be done to win” mean? History and context suggest it means this, as the Times put it:
Most of all, Mr. Biden’s allies contend, he would be the Democrat most likely to reclaim the battleground state voters who abandoned the party in 2016.
What’s striking about this line of argument is how many layers of separation it puts between the idea that Joe Biden should run for president and the idea that Joe Biden should be president. Joe Biden is telling donors he believes that the donors should believe that Joe Biden has the best chance to convince Democratic voters to believe that some of the people who voted for Trump will believe they should vote for Joe Biden. It’s not just an argument about winnability; it’s third- or fourth-order argument about winnability.
Before saying anything about Joe Biden’s merits as a presidential candidate, I should say that if he were to win the nomination, I would certainly vote for him over Donald Trump, who should be impeached, or over Mike Pence or Mitt Romney or Tom Cotton or any other nominee from the party that produced Donald Trump. This is, I suspect, the position that most of the 65.8 million people who voted for Hillary Clinton hold about Biden, or about anyone else who might win the nomination.
With that said, Joe Biden as a presidential candidate would be a sad joke, and the claim that he is necessary to save the country from Donald Trump is, effectively, a claim that the country is beyond saving. He seems like a nice enough person, and he has been through heart-wrenching tragedies, but when he was responsible for his own candidacies—as opposed to other people’s ideas about other people’s ideas about his candidacy—he was a total failure, an incompetent and upsetting weirdo. He blew his first attempt because he went around reciting a speech about being the descendent of coal miners, which turned out in both text and biographical details to have been lifted from Neil Kinnock of the British Labour Party.
As for his politics, the quickest place to start is by rereading the accounts of what Hillary Clinton did wrong, or was present for when Bill Clinton did wrong, through the decades—and then recalling that Joe Biden was right there and instrumental in delivering them all: welfare cutbacks, mass incarceration, war boosterism. He represented Delaware in the Senate, which is to say his constituents were financial predators and corporations that shelter corporations. He cleared Clarence Thomas’ way past Anita Hill onto the Supreme Court. The manifestations of sexism in 2016 may have been bound up in all sorts of confounding variables but Biden 2020 is like a science-fair project to clear them all away: anyone who argues that Joe Biden would be better than Hillary Clinton on the issues is someone who objects to the idea of a woman being president.
It’s exhausting to rehash all of that. But Hillary Clinton has to be the point of comparison, because the dream or hope or calculation of a Biden campaign is the final, most tortured expression of the wish to magically run back the year 2016 again, to somehow make it as if none of this had happened. Maybe Joe Biden could have been the one to get those Wisconsin voters to stay the course. Maybe President Al Gore would have read his security briefings in the summer of 2001. The job now is for someone who can acknowledge those chances are gone, and who has a plan to clean up the wreckage.