In recent days the noise around a possible bid for the presidency by Vice President Joseph Biden has grown louder. In most cases when a president is finishing his second term in office, the sitting vice-president easily wins his party’s nomination. This is what happend to with Al Gore in 2000, George H.W. Bush in 1988 and Richard Nixon in 1960. Since 1960, the only exception to this was Dick Cheney who declined to seek his party’s nomination as the term of George W. Bush wound down in 2008.
This, however, is not a normal Democratic primary. The Democratic frontrunner since at least January of 2013, when President Obama’s second term began, has not been Vice President Joseph Biden, but Hillary Clinton. Ms. Clinton now enjoys an enormous lead over all Democratic challengers, including Mr. Biden.
Mr. Biden is no stranger to presidential politics, having sought his party’s nomination for president in 1988 and again in 2008.
There is both historical precedent for Mr. Biden’s candidacy-for sitting vice presidents, the nomination is usually there’s for the asking-as well as a compelling personal narrative. Mr. Biden’s son Beau, who recently died of cancer at the age of 46, apparently wanted his father to run. These are both good reasons to run, but they should be weighed against the relative lack of any political logic underpinning a potential Biden candidacy. Because Mr. Biden would be running an uphill battle against Ms. Clinton, his campaign rationale would essentially be that he represents another option for a third Obama term, except that he is less dynamic, more prone to gaffes and has less star power than Ms. Clinton.
Moreover, Mr. Biden is one of the few prominent Democrats who is both older and more of a political insider than Ms. Clinton. Mr. Biden, 72, has served as a senator or vice president since 1973, almost twenty years before most of America had heard of Hillary Clinton. For Democrats who are concerned about Ms. Clinton being too old or too much of an establishment figure, Mr. Biden is an even worse option. Similarly, the unspoken concern that Ms. Clinton is behaving as if she is entitled to the nomination, would apply to even more to Mr. Biden, as he would be getting in the race late believing that as the vice-president, the nomination should be his. Mr. Biden then, shares many of Ms. Clinton’s negatives, with fewer positives and is already lagging badly in the polls. That is a formula that is extremely unlikely to lead to a successful primary campaign.
If Mr. Biden runs he will be not only competing with Ms. Clinton for the establishment wing of the Democratic Party, but he will be wading into a complicated field of gender politics. Ms. Clinton is poised to make history as the first woman nominated for President by one of the major parties, and has a good chance of becoming the first woman president. For Democratic leaders and activists, at all levels of the party organization, to go against that historical narrative, for another establishment candidate with no compelling political or ideological story to tell, makes little sense, and risks alienating a very important swing demographic, white women, in November.
If Mr. Biden runs, he will have to compete with Ms. Clinton for voters and party opinion leaders, but will not be able to take votes from Bernie Sanders. The Senator from Vermont is consolidating the support of progressives who are wiling to go against what seems like the inevitability of Ms. Clinton’s nomination. These people are unlikely to move away from their progressive hero in favor of what they will perceive to be another pro-business Democrat. It is equally unlikely that the Party’s other core constituencies, such as African Americans and Latinos, who currently are leaning towards Ms. Clinton will suddenly switch to the vice president. This leaves Mr. Biden with few places to find primary votes, and the very real possibility that the capstone of an almost half century in public service will be finishing third in a not very competitive Democratic Primary.
Moreover, by not entering the race early, Mr. Biden ceded political support, momentum and money to Ms. Clinton who has built a formidable campaign operation. Although one last presidential campaign is undoubtedly tempting for the vice president, retiring from public life after eight good years serving President Obama, is a better move than running for president, and losing, again.
Lincoln Mitchell is national political correspondent at the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @LincolnMitchell.