Published on TheHill.com on September 15, 2015
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” William Shakespeare might have been thinking of Joe Biden.
While the Democratic world ruminates on whether the vice president has the emotional strength to run for president, the political realities are such that he may have to run — ready or not.
Front-runner Hillary Clinton is not merely sinking in the polls for her party’s nomination, she is imploding. Look at the data: Since a July 3 Quinnipiac poll, when the former secretary of State had 55 percent support, she now has just 37 percent, according to a Sept. 11 CNN survey. Meanwhile, Biden has crept up from 13 percent in July to 20 percent, with fellow 2016 hopeful Bernie Sanders moving from 17 percent to 27 percent.
And Clinton has fallen behind by double digits in Iowa and by 22 points in New Hampshire. Even where she is running ads and campaigning in person, she continues to plunge.
As her crash continues and accelerates, the prospect that Sanders, Vermont’s Independent senator, will be the party’s standard-bearer in November looms larger and larger in Democratic nightmares. What a wipeout Sanders would be! Democratic senators and congressmen would become eligible for the Endangered Species List.
There can be little doubt that Clinton’s swift descent — free fall, really — will continue. She has yet to go through the Benghazi hearings and the monthly release of incriminating emails from her private server is now slated to continue well into 2016. In fact, some accounts have indicated that, because Clinton’s IT people didn’t write over her deleted emails with gibberish (easily confused with her campaign press releases) they can be recovered.
Sanders, on the other hand, impelled by an authenticity — a standout characteristic only by comparison — and a bold and imaginative liberal agenda not heard in recent years, will continue to surge.
Clinton’s standard playbook would call for negative ads against her adversary. But how can she attack Sanders? The more she does, the more she will drive a gulf between herself and his liberal base, a base she will need for the general election. She can challenge his ability to win, but amid her crashing poll numbers, she won’t look like much of a winner herself.
Even surrogates — Democratic senators and governors — will find attacking Sanders dangerous, because they too will have to come back to liberal voters when they run again.
In a week or two we can expect Sanders to pass Clinton in the national polls. Convincing leads for the Vermont lawmaker in the big industrial states will soon follow.
These developments will drive Democratic leaders frantic.
They will start begging Biden to run. Should he decline, they will try to run uncommitted slates in some states. When that fails, they will cast about to the likes of Al Gore, John Kerry and, of course, Elizabeth Warren to save their party. And the entreaties will pile up outside Biden’s front door.
Biden will have to relent. Greatness will be thrust upon him.
Once he enters the race, after a period of mourning and grieving, how can Clinton attack him?
Biden, for his part, will face a lower bar as he seeks the nomination. His candidacy will be seen as a rescue mission for the good of the party. That, combined with sympathy for his bereavement, will make it impossible for Clinton, who served alongside Biden in the Senate, to run negative ads.
And the media will be gentle on the VP. They will realize he is a last-minute substitute and will not want to antagonize the public either by criticizing him.
In the meantime, Biden will find himself energized by the campaign trail. The crowds and the hoopla will stimulate him and begin to assuage his grief. For a politician, campaigning is therapeutic.
If Biden runs, look for Sanders to remain in first place, followed by the vice president, with Clinton holding on in third. Increasingly a vote for Clinton will be seen by party pros as a vote for Sanders in their three-way struggle. Fearful of a Sanders victory, they will redouble the pressure to vote for Biden. President Obama will come into the game, and Biden, the reluctant candidate, may well become the nominee.