How worried are Democrats that Hillary Clinton might be a problem as the Democratic nominee? Some are even thinking of Joe Biden as an alternative. A draft-Biden movement has started.
Mark Halperin of Bloomberg News says the buzz is that “if Hillary Clinton fails, he’s the man.” The vice president himself is said to be scrambling for a way to somehow run for president a third time.
Joe Biden? When the next president is sworn in, he will be 74 years old, but that’s only the beginning of his problems. A creature of Washington since he was elected to the Senate at age 29, he personifies the bloviating Beltway that voters have come to loathe. Like the best of bloviators, he can be oblivious to his habit, telling GQ magazine in 2013: “I never speak about anything I don’t know a great deal about.”
But at other times, he can be insightful and revealing about his own career. He told an audience at a 2012 Democratic fundraiser in Chicago: “I never had an interest in being a mayor ’cause that’s a real job. You have to produce. That’s why I was able to be a senator for 36 years.”
As vice president, he’s received a pass from the national media, and he has a few diehard defenders. MSNBC host Thomas Roberts answered criticism of Biden’s gaffes by calling him “one of the country’s most dignified and greatest political leaders.”
But for the most part, the national media cover him as either an endearing version of the outspoken politician that Warren Beatty played in Bulworth or a sort of goofy uncle who’ll say the darndest things. Timothy Noah insisted in a New Republic article that the reason Biden receives much more favorable media coverage than, say, Dan Quayle is that reporters know that Biden “is a smart man who often says stupid things.”
Noah might have added that Biden also does stupid things. His history is replete with incidents ranging from plagiarism to outright fabrications. He also has a cringe-worthy habit of touching women inappropriately in public — as when he was handsy with the wife of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter at Carter’s recent swearing-in ceremony. After that incident, the Daily Beast concluded that Biden “needs a tranquilizer dart.”
I don’t think Biden is stupid, but I do think he is unserious. Not unserious in quite the same way that Donald Trump is. After all, Trump usually knows when he is being outrageous — and acts in this way consciously to build his brand.
I fear Biden, if not serious, is at least sincere, both when he is on the stump and in the many policy meetings in Washington where he leaves attendees scratching there heads. If so, we should all worry.
Few modern politicians have unfairly vilified their opponents as often as Biden has. In 2012, Biden stood before a Virginia campaign crowd, about half of whom were African Americans, and said of Mitt Romney in a comic, down-home accent: “He is going to let the big banks once again write their own rules, unchain Wall Street. He is going to put y’all back in chains.” Even Willie Geist, a co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, put it bluntly: “If Paul Ryan, the Republican candidate, said that to an African American audience, there would be calls this morning for him to get out of the race, for Mitt Romney to withdraw from the race. There’s a double standard.” Biden refused to apologize, because he knew the media would let him get away with not doing so.
Just this month, Biden told a union audience that its adversaries were “intent on breaking unions” and wore “blackshirts,” a clear reference to the skull-crackers of Mussolini’s Fascist Italy. As media critic Jack Shafer noted in Politico: “Biden’s political provocation drew slim attention. The near-universal newsroom response seems to have been, It’s only Uncle Joe going off again.”
Shafer urges editors to “peel off a few journalists to maintain a closer vigil on Uncle Joe.” Not only is he a heartbeat from the presidency, but, if Hillary stumbles, “Biden could assemble a turnkey presidential campaign faster than any other candidate.” In the polls of Democratic voters right now, he runs second to Hillary, ahead of Elizabeth Warren.
A strong case can be made that it’s Democrats who should want more scrutiny of Biden. Downplaying the vice president’s rhetorical belly flops and erratic behavior has come naturally to both liberals and reporters. It’s part of a double standard at work in the last 75 years in which the elite media portray Republicans as dim or addled, from Dwight Eisenhower to Gerald Ford to Ronald Reagan to Dan Quayle to, of course, George W. Bush and Sarah Palin. No Democrat with comparable national stature has been saddled with a similar reputation.
But if Joe Biden should suddenly enter the presidential race in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s failings or scandals, you can bet he’ll do so late enough in the campaign season that he will have a real chance to use his universal name ID to win the Democratic nomination. The media have often given Democratic candidates a pass in the general election (see Barack Obama, 2008), but I don’t think Biden could escape general public knowledge that he verges on being Donald Trump’s crazier brother.
The difference is that Republicans are in no danger of nominating Donald Trump. Democrats, should Hillary falter, could nominate Joe Biden.
— John Fund is national-affairs correspondent for NRO.