This article is the second in a series called White House Wednesday, by the staff of The World and Everything in It, looking at potential 2016 candidates for president. Last week, the series profiled Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Joe Biden, the irrepressible Delaware Democrat, has a longer history in Washington than his two terms as vice president. He’s logged more than 40 years in the nation’s capital.
Biden is 71, and he won election to the senate when he was just 29 years old. A few weeks after that election, the senator-elect’s young wife and 1-year-old daughter were killed in a traffic accident. He received a condolence call from President Richard Nixon.
“You can remember that she was there when you won a great victory,” Nixon told Biden. “You enjoyed it together, and now I’m sure she’ll be watching you from now on.”His two sons, Beau and Hunter, survived, and five years later Biden remarried.
In 1987, with Ronald Reagan’s presidency drawing to a close, Biden began what would a decades-long pursuit of the Oval Office. On the campaign trail in 1987 and 1988, Biden promoted a number of themes and ideas that have factored prominently in the last two presidential elections. For example, In 2012, President Barack Obama echoed criticism of “you’re-on-your-own economics” that Biden had leveled at Reagan 25 years earlier.
Biden’s 1988 presidential bid fell flat, earning him less than 1 percent of the Democratic primary vote. In 2008, his second campaign was no more successful than his first. He dropped out after grabbing, again, just 1 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses. Now that his resume has eight years as vice president of the United States, could Biden fare better in 2016?
It worked for Vice President George Bush in 1988, and Vice President Al Gore nearly won in 2000. But, overall, the vice presidency hasn’t been a great platform from which to launch a White House run.
“One of the challenges with the vice presidency is that, the vice president is elevated to the position not to succeed the presidential candidate, but to help the presidential candidate solve a problem that he himself might have. … He’s really much more of a supporting player,” said Jay Cost, a columnist with The Weekly Standard.
Biden does have strengths as a campaigner. He is charismatic, funny, and seems to enjoy handshaking and stumping. He’s always gotten high marks within the party for his ability to fire up a crowd. And there’s a gravitas that comes along with being addressed as “Mr. Vice President.”
But he has weaknesses, too, starting with his age and a long track record in Washington that opponents can attack. And he doesn’t really have an obvious constituency within his party.
“He often represents himself as a guy with a working-class background, and I suppose that’s true if you go far back enough in time,” Cost said. “But he was elected to the Senate in the 1970s from Delaware, which is a state that really doesn’t have a working-class constituency. And, anyway, the white working class isn’t really much of a factor in the Democratic party anymore.”
Compounding that problem is Biden’s propensity for putting his foot in his mouth. Some of his gaffes have been harmless, like saying “jobs” was a three-letter word. And Biden will never live down asking a state lawmaker in 2008 to stand up and be recognized without realizing he was in a wheelchair.
But he’s also said a number of things that were offensive to many. He did an impression of an Indian accent that some people felt amounted to mockery. And then there was this remark about Obama when he was a senator: “I mean, you’ve got the first sort of mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook man.”
Obviously, Obama didn’t take much offense since he picked Biden for his running mate. He’s gotten away with all of the gaffes as vice president, but if he runs again for president, those are things that could seriously damage his credibility in 2016.
Listen to Kent Covington and Nick Eicher’s White House Wednesday segment on The World and Everything in It: