By some measures, Vice President Biden has been effectively running for president in recent months, doing what many national candidates do. The Delaware Democrat has been making calls to party leaders, delivering speeches, sounding out allied organizations, connecting with donors, and looking for ways to improve his position in a possible race for the nomination.
But after taking a good, long look at the contest, Biden concluded that his window of opportunity has closed.
“I believe we’re out of time. The time necessary to mount a winning campaign for the nomination,” he announced from the Rose Garden of the White House in a last-minute statement. He was flanked by President Obama and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden. “I have concluded that [the window] has closed.”Biden vowed to remain a strong voice in the Democratic presidential race to defend the Obama administration’s record.
The final decision is consistent with the general pattern of Biden’s political career. Remember, he’s been down this road before, weighing presidential campaigns in 1984 and 2004, taking quite a while to make up his mind before ultimately passing. When Biden launched White House bids in the 1988 and 2008 cycles, however, he made his intentions clear very early on, moving decisively to build a campaign operation, before eventually coming up short.
Given this history, the odds seemed to be against Biden launching a late bid in the 2016 race. Sure, the circumstances weren’t identical – he’s a sitting vice president who’s reached the age at which there are no more national campaigns on the horizon – but the pattern nevertheless held true.
To my mind, this was unquestionably the correct decision. There was no real opening in the Democratic race for Biden – no constituencies that are unrepresented, no key issues that are being ignored – and recent polling suggested that the vice president, though widely liked and respected, was not well positioned to compete against Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Had he entered the race several months ago, the electoral dynamic may have been different, but the top Democratic contenders have been on the trail, building up impressive bases of support, for six months. If Biden wanted to run, he simply waited too long.
I’ve seen some suggestions in recent weeks that the V.P. had nothing to lose by trying, He obviously sees himself as a presidential-caliber leader having run twice before, and facing retirement or the Oval Office, there was no reason, the argument went, that Biden shouldn’t at least pursue the latter.
This has never been persuasive to me. Biden actually faced an enormous risk: public embarrassment. After a lengthy, honorable career in public office, culminating in serving two terms in the nation’s second-highest office, Biden probably did not want his last chapter to be a defeat.
He faced an uphill battle against established candidates with more resources than he could possibly hope to collect on an abbreviated schedule. He simultaneously faced skepticism from the party’s progressive base, and a track record of struggling as a presidential candidate (eight years ago, he received less than 1% of the vote in Iowa before promptly quitting).
With today’s announcement, Biden gets to walk away on his own terms, with his head held high. It was the right call.