Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Institute of Politics, University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., on March 23, 2017. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Senator Joe Biden, who as of tomorrow will be 82 years old, will likely be reelected to a seventh term in the U.S. Senate by a wide margin. But if a challenger challenges him at all, it will probably be this one.
After what appears to be an important discovery in North Carolina, three times as many Americans — 24 percent — say that Biden should run for president in 2020, while fewer Americans — just 10 percent — say he should run for president again. This group includes those who identify with the Democratic Party, independents and people who say they vote “lean” toward the Democratic Party, but who appear to be looking for a candidate outside of the mainstream.
A chance at re-election is not an enormous motivation for many Democrats to change their minds. But in a 2016 study of White Americans by Robert Putnam of Harvard University and David Campbell of Notre Dame, “The American Dream Isn’t Dead,” they found that those who profess that America’s dream is alive tend to be less motivated than those who don’t. That raises a question for Biden: Can this motivator group return to the Democratic fold, with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s endorsements, even if he has changed his mind? It’s a version of the issue that faced Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who made the improbable jump to 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, only to see the fact that his supporters were simply not enough to put him over the top. (Though he won this popular vote group, Clinton won the delegate count.)
In the 20 years that Biden has served in the Senate, two of them as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he has done very little to tamp down the partisan firestorm that remains over his differences with the White House. Whether it was fighting President George W. Bush’s notion that the Constitution provides for a president to withdraw troops from Iraq without congressional approval or claiming that Barack Obama was somehow “dancing on a grave” when he took out ISIS (Obama and Biden have argued that the challenge from ISIS made it appropriate to defeat the terror group), Biden has maintained a strong line against Trump. He has repeatedly broken with his party, facing criticism from both the left and the right for tacking to the center (a line he reprised this week with Hillary Clinton’s decades-old policy that appeared to lay blame on George W. Bush) on issues like abortion, foreign policy and gun rights. His position that Sen. Al Franken should resign after sexual misconduct allegations exposed the sharp divisions in the Democratic Party was not popular — even though it was widely accepted. And some of his recent positions have played into his longtime slogan: “Where is the leader?”
Early in his presidency, after George W. Bush’s approval ratings plummeted, his father, President George H.W. Bush, suffered a similar fate, but one that was not adverted during his final years in office. “Where is the leader?” many still asked, nearly 16 years after he received his second term. And it remains a question for Biden, who as of tomorrow will be 82 years old. He, too, will be in that phase of life where a lifetime of public service might be time enough to move on.
He won’t have the constraints imposed on his decision making by lack of a job.