The pundits have weighed in: There’s no way Vice President Joe Biden can even consider jumping into the race following Hillary Clinton’s strong debate performance.
Experts told Politico that Tuesday night was “not a good night for Joe Biden.” According to NPR, Biden’s “window has closed.” The Chicago Tribune says the vice president “missed his moment.” His path to the nomination is both “steeper” and “murkier.”
“If Vice President Biden wants to enter and compete for the presidency, then it is time he make that decision,” John Podesta, the chair of the Clinton campaign, told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Wednesday, in a notable shift in rhetoric.
Biden doesn’t appear to be listening.
After three days of stories and discussion about whether there was still “room” for him in the field, a top political adviser to the vice president blasted out a bombshell. Ted Kaufman, Biden’s former chief of staff who replaced him in the Senate, sent an email to Biden loyalists telling them to be “ready” in the event Biden decides to run. The email also laid out a potential campaign platform if Biden did indeed decide to run.
“If he runs, he will run because of his burning conviction that we need to fundamentally change the balance in our economy and the political structure to restore the ability of the middle class to get ahead. And whether we can get a political consensus in America to get it done,” Kaufman wrote.
“And what kind of campaign? An optimistic campaign. A campaign from the heart. A campaign consistent with his values, our values, and the values of the American people. And I think it’s fair to say, knowing him as we all do, that it won’t be a scripted affair – after all, it’s Joe.
“He believes we must win this election. Everything he and the President have worked for – and care about – is at stake.”
Biden also spoke Friday to the head of the International Association of Fire Fighters. According to CNN, Biden indicated he was planning to run for president – and Harold Schaitberger, the president of the influential union, suggested it would back his candidacy if he did run.
- Eric Thayer/Reuters
‘What’s clear is that he’s in the race’
While spectators clashed over whether Clinton or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) “won” the debate, the question of Biden’s potential space for a candidacy was practically settled by the next morning.
Across the board, the pundit verdict became clear: About 23 minutes of speaking time for Clinton had fundamentally changed the dynamic of a Democratic race that, in the days and weeks before, had plenty of space for a Biden candidacy.
Some other observers, and Biden enthusiasts, took a bit of a different view: Nothing has changed. In fact, they argued, Tuesday’s debate showed how much the 2016 Democratic field pales in comparison to past versions.
“Secretary Clinton had a very good night, and while she was definitely the class of the stage – that stage did not approach the same caliber of room we saw in the ’07 debates. There was nothing I saw [Tuesday night] that doesn’t indicate an opening for the Vice President,” said Steve Schale, a former Obama campaign aide and an adviser to the “Draft Biden” group encouraging the vice president to run.”For all the conventional wisdom about how the debate politically impacts his decision, my perception is the VP is approaching this as more of a personal question. And the reality is – should he get in, the whole dynamic of the race changes, and the focus goes to the next debate, and not Tuesday night,” he added.
Another Democratic strategist unaffiliated with a campaign told Business Insider, referencing the general lack of depth on stage: “If she didn’t trounce the guys on stage …”
Others noted that an experienced politician like Biden, with 40 years of public service and two failed bids for the presidency, would not likely be deterred by a positive media cycle for an opponent.
Rodell Mollineau, a veteran Democratic strategist, told Business Insider that the idea Biden would now feel muscled out seemed ridiculous, considering the other obvious obstacles to a run.
“If you’re the vice president of the United States, it’s hard for me to think that a debate made you decide that you aren’t going to run,” Mollineau said.
Mollineau pointed out the more proximate hurdles: Money and organization. Though the “Draft Biden” super PAC has tried to lay the groundwork for Biden in case he decides to enter the race, the vice president has nothing that even resembles the national-campaign organization that Clinton has built up methodically. Her campaign has more than 500 staffers on its payroll, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.
And Biden would be starting from scratch trying to raise money – though his standing and some of the pining from Democratic bigwigs indicates he would not have much trouble wooing donors.
“It is much more likely that the factors of him not getting into this race are money, whether he can get the organization up, and actual electoral pathway to victory,” Mollineau said.
Biden has slowly crept up in recent polls as reports have swirled about his intentions. A Reuters poll showed that half of likely Democratic primary voters nationwide still want him to jump into the race, while Biden also is faring best among Democrats in hypothetical head-to-head matchups with major Republican rivals. It’s likely that Biden’s support would drop once he began officially campaigning, but it’s unclear how significant the drop would be.
As New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman pointed out on Friday, much of the analysis over whether Biden “missed his window” assumes that he’s deciding whether to run for president.
In reality, Biden has been running for months – ever since a Maureen Dowd column in The New York Times first floated the possibility in August. And he’s now deciding whether he wants to run a “passive” or an “active” campaign.
“What’s clear is that he’s in the race: When a sitting vice-president works the phones after his party’s debate stressing that he is not ruling out running for president, that is the activity of a man running for president,” Sherman wrote. “Biden is the party’s Plan B, either its alt-Clinton or alt-Sanders, and he’s had loyalists … to keep the campaign’s pilot light on while he decides which candidate to be.