It’s not crazy to en­vi­sion Biden run­ning against Trump

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - COMMENTARY - By AL­BERT R. HUNT

In re­port­ing about pol­i­tics all my adult life, I’ve en­joyed in­dulging in can­di­date sce­nar­ios, es­pe­cially think­ing un­con­ven­tion­ally about what might hap­pen if some­body runs for pres­i­dent. If peo­ple I re­spect dis­miss one of my story lines as a dumb idea, it’s usu­ally bet­ter to move on.

This time, I’m go­ing to ig­nore them.

My lat­est sce­nario, de­rided by Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can sources alike, imag­ines a 2020 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial run by Joe Biden.

I think it could work, with caveats: Biden would have to pick a special type of run­ning mate well in ad­vance, plan only to serve one term and re­lease all his health records. And he’d have to be run­ning against Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Most of my ex­pert friends dis­miss the vi­a­bil­ity of a Biden run, but Biden doesn’t. He and his po­lit­i­cal ad­vis­ers take the prospect se­ri­ously.

To see why they’re not crazy, start with this fact of po­lit­i­cal life: When an in­cum­bent runs for re-elec­tion, the con­test is a ref­er­en­dum on him. A chal­lenger, to be suc­cess­ful, must of­fer an ap­peal­ing al­ter­na­tive that bet­ter ad­dresses what­ever’s both­er­ing peo­ple.

Jimmy Carter, the out­sider, beat Pres­i­dent Ger­ald Ford in 1976 in the shadow of the Water­gate scan­dals. Ron­ald Rea­gan de­feated Carter four years later by show­ing re­solve that res­onated dur­ing the Ira­nian hostage cri­sis. Bill Clin­ton’s do­mes­tic fo­cus had broad ap­peal in 1992, the first pres­i­den­tial con­test af­ter the end of the Cold War, against the vet­eran cold war­rior Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush.

Af­ter three-and-a-half years of Trump, what will swing vot­ers be look­ing for?

A grown-up who is com­mit­ted to get­ting things done by try­ing to bridge the bit­ter par­ti­san di­vide. A per­son with ex­pe­ri­ence in gov­ern­ing, savvy about the ways of Wash­ing­ton and wary of na­tional se­cu­rity booby traps. A rep­u­ta­tion for in­cor­rupt­ibil­ity to drain the eth­i­cal swamp of the Trump years.

More than most out­siders, new faces or ide­o­log­i­cal purists, the 74-year-old for­mer sen­a­tor and vice pres­i­dent could fit that bill.

To be sure, those who tell me I’m daffy have com­pelling rea­sons. Biden was a ter­ri­ble can­di­date — twice! — when he ran for pres­i­dent in 1987 and 2007. A half-cen­tury in pol­i­tics doesn’t usu­ally pro­duce new ideas. He can be a gaffe ma­chine, un­able to keep ill-considered first thoughts to him­self. From Day One, he would be the old­est per­son to oc­cupy the of­fice.

But there are rea­sons to think these short­com­ings might not weigh so heav­ily this time. Pre­sum­ably, his ex­pe­ri­ence run­ning with Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and serv­ing as an in­flu­en­tial vice pres­i­dent (a job that ab­so­lutely re­quires peo­ple to learn to hold their tongues) will make him a bet­ter can­di­date. He’ll com­mit gaffes — oth­er­wise it wouldn’t be Joe — but oc­ca­sional loose talk will seem be­nign mea­sured against Trump’s mean spirit and con­tempt for the truth.

A politi­cian first elected in 1970 is not go­ing to be the face of the fu­ture. But af­ter the ex­haus­tion, trauma and in­com­pe­tence of the Trump years, vot­ers will look for sta­bil­ity, so­lid­ity, ma­tu­rity, global ex­pe­ri­ence, ci­vil­ity and in­tegrity. Biden checks all the boxes.

He’s a part of the mod­er­ate Obama-Clin­ton wing of the Demo­cratic Party (though there’s no love lost be­tween Biden and Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton). But pro­gres­sives ac­knowl­edge his gen­uine em­pa­thy for work­ing class Amer­i­cans, and he’s lib­eral enough for them on so­cial is­sues — it was Biden who forced Obama’s hand on supporting gay mar­riage.

There’s still the is­sue of age. If elected, he’d be 78, three years older than Trump, though prob­a­bly in bet­ter shape.

But even if 78 is the new 68, the no­tion of serv­ing two terms, well into his mid80s, won’t cut it. Nor­mally, promis­ing to serve only one term is a bad idea; it turns a leader into a lame duck on the first day in of­fice. There’s never been a great one-term pres­i­dent.

But Biden could change the way can­di­dates look at the se­lec­tion of a run­ning mate. In­stead of wait­ing un­til the eve of the nom­i­nat­ing con­ven­tion, he should pick a run­ning mate more than a year in ad­vance, and run as a team.

That would be good pol­i­tics and good pol­icy. Re­mem­ber: There’s noth­ing sacro­sanct about the present sys­tem, which pro­duced Spiro T. Agnew, John Ed­wards and Sarah Palin.

Biden should se­lect a woman, in her 40s or 50s, who has won elec­tive of­fice and demon­strated the ca­pac­ity to step into the pres­i­dent’s shoes.

His case to vot­ers would be di­rect: I’m the most ex­pe­ri­enced man to ever run for pres­i­dent, and by the end of the first term I will have de­vel­oped a part­ner with stel­lar cre­den­tials to suc­ceed me. OK, it’s a long shot. My in­sider friends who think it’s a crazy idea, in­clud­ing a cou­ple of Repub­li­cans who said they’d vote for Biden in­stead of Trump, are prob­a­bly right. The odds might be bet­ter for a fresh-faced change agent or a left-winger rep­re­sent­ing the new heart of the Demo­cratic Party.

But con­sider the po­lit­i­cal mer­its. What’s a bet­ter an­ti­dote to the poi­son of Trump­ism than the buoy­ant ma­tu­rity of Joe Biden?

Al­bert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View colum­nist. He was the ex­ec­u­tive edi­tor of Bloomberg News, be­fore which he was a re­porter, bureau chief and ex­ec­u­tive Wash­ing­ton edi­tor at the Wall Street Jour­nal. Read­ers can email him at

MAR­CUS YAM/Los An­ge­les Times/TNS

Joe Biden speaks dur­ing the 2016 Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion in Philadel­phia. The for­mer vice pres­i­dent is keep­ing his op­tions open for a po­ten­tial run at the party’s 2020 pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion.

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