Third time's the charm?

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The Biden Boomlet Debunked

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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There's only one thing wrong with the Joe Biden presidential boomlet, which received a fair amount of news media attention over the weekend (some bought into it more than others). Democrats have repeatedly shown a thorough lack of interest in moving Joe Biden into the White House.

Biden, who is now 72, ran for president in 1988, successfully winning the interest of a dozen or more big-shot Democratic consultants, but drawing so little support elsewhere that he dropped out long before the Iowa caucuses. He then returned to the Senate and, like Ted Kennedy after his 1980 loss, set out to become a serious senator. Biden earned an excellent reputation for his work on the Judiciary Committee and on foreign-affairs matters.

His return to presidential politics in 2008 was another disaster. He failed to win 1 percent of delegate shares in Iowa, and once again dropped out.

Now consider the current cycle. Yes, he's vice president. But have you heard of a Draft Biden movement, as there was for Elizabeth Warren? Nope. Are any big-name Democrats pledging to support him if he runs (as half the Democrats in Congress did for Hillary Clinton)? No, none. Does he poll well among the rank and file? No, he doesn't.

HuffPollster's estimate is that he peaked at about 15 percent in Democratic trial heats for 2016 -- and this was back in December 2012, a month after the Obama ticket won re-election. He has gradually lost ground since and has never come within 40 percentage points of Clinton.

Nor does Biden appear to have any natural constituency or any real opening, as the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza pointed out:

So what's this all about?

For one thing, as political scientist Matthew Dickinson points out, the most ardent enthusiasm for a Biden run is likely coming from the national press, which has a stake in a sharply contested nomination battle. If such a contest doesn't exist, many reporters will pretend it does (as they did in 2000 for John McCain and, to some extent, for Bill Bradley on the Democratic side).

Others who might benefit from a Biden run are the Democratic campaign professionals -- pollsters, media consultants and others -- who remain without a horse. The 17-candidate field on the Republican side is providing full employment for their counterparts in the other party. The Democrats only have a one-plus candidate field: Clinton is running a fully staffed campaign, but it isn't clear how many traditional operatives are being hired by Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb. The answer is probably "not many."

For those Democratic professionals still for hire, signing on to a long-shot campaign, as Biden's would be, is low-risk, since no operative will be blamed for such a candidate's failure to win the nomination.

Beyond those interest groups, the vice president has friends and family who have been loyal to his career for years and have always pictured him in the big chair. It isn't a surprise they may want him to give it one more try.

We don't know yet if Biden will launch a no-chance presidential bid. The only sure thing right now is that the press will hype any hint of such a campaign – or other signs that the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination is up for grabs.

  1. The best analysis of Biden's 1988 bid remains Richard Ben Cramer's classic, "What It Takes."

  2. The New York Times front-page piece on Sunday refers to a Draft Biden group, but it certainly isn't high-profile. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net