Officially, Joe Biden is running for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. And if, as expected, his underfunded and overlooked candidacy tanks in the early primary and caucus states next January, he’ll probably end up seeking—and winning—a seventh term in the United States Senate in the fall of 2008.
But the job Mr. Biden may really be eyeing is that of Secretary of State.
It’s a post for which the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whose foreign-policy conversance was on full display in the most recent Presidential debate, is impeccably qualified. Indeed, Mr. Biden and Richard Holbrooke supposedly constituted John Kerry’s short list for Secretary of State had the 2004 race turned out differently. And the workload under a new Democratic President in 2009 would be full of challenges and potential rewards, a chance to clean up the global diplomatic mess created by the current administration.
And Mr. Biden would have plenty of reasons to covet the job, which probably represents his final realistic chance at a securing a high-profile promotion from the Senate that would allow him to build a legacy outside of the world’s most exclusive club.
His White House bid is choking to death, starved of oxygen by the star power of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and even the Al Gore guessing game. Newcomer candidates like Bill Richardson can dream of breaking into that top tier, theoretically, but Mr. Biden has probably been around the track too many times for the Democratic masses to give him a fresh look.
Nor can Mr. Biden plausibly position himself for the Vice Presidency. Yes, his international expertise would lend credibility to any ticket and his legislative savvy would make him an excellent liaison to Capitol Hill as V.P. But these days, the running-mate selection process is about maximizing the public-relations benefit of the announcement, and any Democratic nominee who taps Mr. Biden as his or her No. 2 would be sentenced to days of news stories about the Senator’s past brushes with plagiarism, résumé embellishment and the fragile language of racial politics. He simply wouldn’t be worth the trouble, especially since his foot-in-mouth tendencies would threaten to create further distractions as the campaign progressed.
But Secretary of State, first in line to the Presidency among Cabinet secretaries, is an appointed position, and Mr. Biden’s nomination would sail through the Senate confirmation process. And as a prospective appointee, the electoral liabilities that undermine him at the Presidential and Vice Presidential levels would be meaningless.
This isn’t to say that Mr. Biden’s Presidential campaign is a massive subterfuge—there are far less expensive, and potentially humbling, ways to pursue a Cabinet appointment, especially when the identity of the Democratic nominee is still far from clear.
But Mr. Biden, who once seemed uniquely willing to offer substantive criticism of the foreign policy views of his opponents, has been much more hesitant of late to give offense to the candidate most likely one day to be able to offer him a job.