Politics & Policy

Biden Kneecaps Hillary as the Dem Establishment Gets Nervous

(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty)

Vice President Joe Biden just took Hillary Clinton out at the knees.

“Bernie [Sanders] is speaking to a yearning that is deep and real,” Biden told CNN’s Gloria Borger. “And that is the absolute enormous concentration of wealth in a small group of people, with the middle class, now being shown, being left out.”

When Borger pointed out that, “Hillary’s been talking about that as well,” Biden was undeterred.

“It’s relatively new for Hillary to talk about that,” he said. “Hillary’s focus has been on other things up to now, and that’s been Bernie’s — nobody questions Bernie’s authenticity on those issues. . . . I think they question everybody’s who hasn’t been talking about it all along, but I think she’s come forward with some really thoughtful approaches to deal with the issue.”

You don’t say this sort of thing if you’re enthusiastic about Clinton being the Democratic nominee in 2016. Either the vice president wants to ensure that Sanders gets a fair shot at the nomination, or he’s itching to reverse his own decision not to run in 2016. (He has recently hinted at the latter possibility.)

Perhaps Biden is just miffed at Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the Democratic National Committee for rigging the primaries in Clinton’s favor. The DNC ruled there would only be six debates, only four of them before Iowa, and two buried late on Saturday nights. They’ve scheduled debates opposite major sporting events — last night’s candidate forum, which ran on little-watched Fusion while Americans were captivated by the college football national championship game, was just the latest example — and on the weekend before Christmas, doing everything in their power to give the impression that they don’t want audiences to watch their candidates spar. Smaller viewership, of course, is good news for the status quo, which in this case means Clinton, who has been an overwhelming favorite to win the party’s nomination since the moment she conceded in the summer of 2008.

And that’s a shame, because there couldn’t be a worse time for either party to hold a coronation. As much as Donald Trump and his brand of angry populism have turned the Republican presidential primary upside down, the Democrats face the same hurricane of political and cultural forces in a frustrated country. Many Americans feel like the Great Recession never ended. The Affordable Care Act has not made health care affordable. Race relations are as bad as they’ve been in decades. ISIS is spreading like wildfire and a global Sunni-Shia war looms. Americans eye immigrants, both legal and illegal, with new wariness and suspicion.

#share#Democrats, if they’re honest with themselves, will have the more challenging debate about where to go post-Obama. Republicans can always unite around some version of “don’t do what Obama did”; Democrats must grapple with the reality that seven years of Hope and Change didn’t really fix much. Unless they want to run for a third term of Obama’s policies — which would be political suicide — they need a serious debate about what they want their next president to do differently.

Right now, they’re barely having that debate, but that could change quickly. On his morning program Tuesday, Joe Scarborough predicted that if Clinton loses both Iowa (where the latest poll puts Sanders ahead by 5 points) and New Hampshire (where the latest poll puts sanders Sanders ahead by 14 points), Joe Biden, John Kerry, and perhaps even Al Gore will jump into the race.

Democrats must grapple with the reality that seven years of Hope and Change didn’t really fix much.

It might seem inconceivable, but the Democratic establishment must be terrified by the thought of a rambling, shouting, self-described Socialist Larry David lookalike carrying them into the general election. How many of those ghosts of elections past would heed a call to jump in at the last second to save the party, and/or the country from a Donald Trump presidency? How many of them could resist?

Clinton is unlikely to get much better as a candidate. Sanders is pulling her to the left, forcing her into ever-more-painful ideological contortions that make her look even less authentic than she already did, and making it harder for her to pivot back to the middle if she survives the primaries.

#related#This is not to even mention the scandal surrounding the former secretary of state’s private e-mail server, which is still very much a problem for her. Fox News reported just yesterday that the FBI’s investigation has now been expanded to include the possibility that Clinton’s decisions at the State Department ran afoul of public-corruption laws.

Joe Biden has an uncontrollable mouth, but he’s got enough sense to realize that there’s a good chance the FBI comes back with a scathing report about Hillary’s time at State. The best-case scenario for Clinton is the FBI concluding the laws were unclear and she was poorly served by her staff. The Obama administration’s Department of Justice may choose not to prosecute any crimes the FBI identifies, but that scenario is likely to result in a lot of ugly leaks from the Bureau.

It seems much more likely that the coming year brings a “HILLARY INDICTED” headline, or a “FBI SOURCES: HILLARY SHOULD HAVE BEEN INDICTED” headline, which is almost as bad. It’s as good a reason as any for the vice president to suddenly hint to his party that they should keep their options open.

— Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent for National Review.

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