Let's end the 'Joe Biden for president' delusion right now

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden now seems to be seriously considering running for president in 2020.
  • But Biden is the exact opposite of the kind of candidate voters in both parties proved they want in the 2016 election.
  • Biden is also a proven loser in elections everywhere but in his tiny state of Delaware.
Former VP Joe Biden.
Bastiaan Slabbers | NurPhoto | Getty Images
Former VP Joe Biden.

America's political establishment just will not take a hint.

The latest evidence is the growing buzz surrounding former Vice President Joe Biden's potential presidential candidacy in 2020. Appearing in a series of interviews for his new book, Biden is now not ruling out a run for the White House.

One question: Why is this anything other than a joke?

It's one thing to be depressed and disappointed about Donald Trump's victory, but have these people forgotten everything we learned from the 2016 election?

Apparently so.

Not only did the ultimate outsider win the election, but the second most formidable force throughout the contest was another consummate outside in Senator Bernie Sanders. And now Sanders' achievement seems even more impressive as former Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile is insisting the Hillary Clinton campaign rigged the system to make it impossible for him to win.

Because Biden and whoever his supporters may be right now have apparently missed the memo, let's break this situation down.

First, American voters on each side of the traditional partisan aisle are shouting loudly and clearly that they're tired of establishment politicians. They shouted it by choosing Trump over 16 more experienced and qualified GOP presidential candidates in the 2016 Republican primaries.

Democrats shouted it during the Sanders' primary run in massive enthusiasm and grass roots energy.

And a majority of the voters even shouted it pretty loudly in 2008, when they elected the much less politically experienced Barack Obama president over Clinton in the Democratic primaries and then John McCain in the general election.

And now along comes Biden, with his decades in Congress and eight years as vice president portraying himself as a possible great hope?


And that's not all. Remember that Biden is a Democrat and would first have to secure his party's base supporters in the primaries to make it. Biden tried that twice before, in 1988 and 2008, and failed both times.

In 1988, a plagiarism scandal derailed his hopes. And for 2008, Biden blew his already slim chances at a serious run a year before that primary season even started with this memorable comment about then-candidate Obama in early 2007 that came off as condescending and racist:

"I mean, you've got the first sort of mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a story-book, man."

Biden apologized for that remark, but found he couldn't raise much money for his campaign. After finishing fifth in the Iowa caucuses in January of 2008, he dropped out of the presidential race.

But adding to his poor track record is the fact that Biden seems ill-fitted to a Democratic Party that is embracing Sanders' and Senator Elizabeth Warren's progressive economic agenda on one hand, and full-bore identity politics/minority leadership on the other.

A Harvard-Harris poll released just last month showed that a majority of Democratic Party voters want to replace their establishment leaders and move further to the left.

So it's a fair question: Can a white, male, career politician like Joe Biden win the support of the new Democratic Party base and get the presidential nomination? He couldn't even come close the two other times he tried when progressive policies and identity politics weren't nearly the powerful forces they are now for the Democrats. So why now?

Most of the arguments in Biden's favor seem to focus on the more natural way he speaks, even though that sometimes leads him into verbal gaffes like the one he made about Obama in 2007. In light of the daily blunt talking and tweeting from President Trump, perhaps Biden and his fans believe he could fight Trump's verbal fire with fire.

But that's been tried before and it didn't work when Senator Marco Rubio tried to match nasty comments with Trump in the 2016 primaries and others failed at it too. It's not so much the words, but the person saying them that matters. And besides, Trump's blunt talk isn't a total winning asset for him as his still historically low approval ratings prove on a daily basis. Why the Democrats would want to try to defeat Trump using that very flawed path to popularity is another big question.

And don't forget Biden's age. He'll be 75 next week and 77 when the primaries begin in earnest in 2020. While an elderly appearance didn't seem to hurt Sanders too much, age doesn't look as good on a person like Biden who's spent 44 years in elected office in Washington already.

If Biden persists in flirting with the idea of running in 2020, he'll soon learn the lesson of all candidates who take on a presidential incumbent. And that lesson is that no matter how unpopular that incumbent is, you can't win simply by reminding the voters you're not him.

That was the lesson John Kerry, Mitt Romney, and George McGovern all learned the hard way. They failed to present themselves as enough of a new face with an outsider's message the way that successful candidates like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton did when they beat incumbent presidents to take the White House.

Biden is neither and outsider or a new face. And he also offers nothing to a Democratic Party that since the Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigns has invested heavily in presenting minority and female voters with minority and female candidates to support.

Put that all together and Joe Biden isn't even a viable flavor of the week, let alone someone who can realistically still be in the presidential mix two years from now.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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