Hillary Clinton was supposed to be the future after Barack Obama left office. The thinking among Democrats was simple, smart, and safe. Clinton, an experienced political figure, would be able to win in an election where the President has middling approval ratings. Her tenure and ability to distance herself from Obama would allow her to pull in the moderates and Independents the party needs to win even as she stuck with the President on his core issues.
Clinton’s recent turn towards turning out the base, doubling down on the President’s liberal initiatives (immigration reform, opening relations with Cuba, taxing Wall-Street, fomenting racial tensions), was likely planned by her advisers to be countered by the historic sheen of her being the first female President. Then the State Department email scandal hit and, unlike what many Democrats predicted, it did not go away. Most recently, two Inspector Generals recommended to the Department of Justice a criminal investigation be opened.
Democratic hand-wringing over Hillary has not been felt in the White House. To a degree the Obama Presidency has tried to avoid Democratic infighting over policy and party nomination contests. It’s why the President has heaped praise on Hillary for work while staying quiet on his top lieutenant, Joe Biden. Assuming Biden did run, he would probably face more demographic challenges than Hillary. As a white male, he would struggle to appeal to minorities, and his gender would probably not help him with support among women.
Even considering Biden’s issues, he is starting to look more and more attractive to Democrats. He is not dragged down by scandals, has a history of making big deals in both a partisan and bipartisan manner, and could help the party appeal to blue-collar voters.
Look at the recent polls coming out on Hillary. A recent Quinnipiac survey in Colorado, Virginia, and Iowa finds her losing to Walker, Bush, and Rubio in every case. Her favorability ratings in all three states are atrocious, and few voters trust her to be an honest leader. Even Bush has better trust ratings in all three states.
The recent NBC/Marist survey, which found Trump surging in the GOP primary, shows similarly dismal numbers for Clinton’s campaign in both states. Her national numbers remain upside down at 45/48 in a CNN/ORC survey, and Gallup pegs them at 43/46.
Clinton has also faced a political uprising from the party’s white, progressive base. As a result she has tacked even further to the left in order to halt the march of Bernie Sanders. This was not what her campaign wanted. In a weak field Clinton was supposed to tower over the opposition and appear moderate heading into the election as the ultimate GOP primary winner comes out of the process bruised, battered, and far to the right of the electorate.
Instead, she has had to embrace policies loved by the base that may cost her in key general election contests, believing in the predictions of political advisors that demographic change makes a Democratic win inevitable.
Enter Joe Biden. If the party and its leaders believe all the party has to do is become progressives champion and micro-target their base, Joe Biden is the perfect choice. Biden pushed the President to embrace gay marriage in his 2012 reelection before his advisers did. He embraced gun control efforts after Sandy Hook, is leading the effort on wooing Congress to support the Iran deal, and pitched wary Democrats on Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority.
He also has a history of working across the aisle. For example, he helped Congress avert the fiscal cliff in 2012 by making a deal with then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Bush tax cuts.
Joe Biden came to office in 1972 by being an authentic progressive, willing to say what was unpopular, and appealing to blue-collar voters. His defeat of an incumbent GOP Senator rocked the political world at a time when Republicans were riding high after Nixon’s landslide reelection.
Since then, Biden’s political authenticity has not changed. He campaigns and lobbies as a happy warrior and does not go for talking points. On the one hand he can ham it up at a union rally, at the next make a deal with Senate Republicans, and right after blast them for their opposition to key Presidential priorities. Voters seem tired of the typical politician and Biden is not the typical politician despite his long, long tenure.
However, it’s not all positive for Biden. His drawbacks are clear. He is not getting any younger and appears unprepared to handle a national campaign. He has donors willing to support him, but his financial network pales in comparison to Clinton’s. While he wins in Senate contests, he has an 0-2 record running for President.
Lastly, while his proponents believe he could win back blue-collar workers, he is saddled with the President’s unpopularity among the group. By standing with the President on his most progressive causes and carrying Obama’s baggage when he was weakest, Biden has ensured the voting bloc will view his candidacy as a continuation of the President’s.
This has not been enough to silence the media buzz and encouragement for a Biden run. The Fiscal Times pondered how a Biden presidency could occur if the GOP primary turns into a bloodbath and Hillary implodes. Polls show that Biden’s support in polls is coming from Hillary; if she were to drop out, Biden would be the next logical choice for these voters. Sanders, for all his appeal to the party base, is widely viewed as unelectable in the general election.
Clinton’s squandering of so many opportunities has led to the Draft Biden siren song. Viewed positively at the start of the campaign, she has been dragged down to the most solid reality of the political world: when wounded, seek shelter in the embrace of your party.
Presidential policies Clinton once felt she could embrace with one hand and distance herself on the other, she has now fully embraced. In Nevada she embraced comprehensive immigration reform. She supported the President’s policies on Syria after criticizing him for embracing them last year. She has become a supporter of the President’s Iran deal, defended the President on his ISIS strategy, and embraced opening relations with Cuba. The independent route her campaign once thought they could take has turned into one of hard math: there are more of us than them.
This newfound strategy has forced her campaign into some awful contusions. She refuses to take a position on the Keystone XL Pipeline despite the State Department review she began under her tenure green-lighting the project. Until recently she avoided taking a position on Fast Track until progressives pushed her campaign to oppose the measure.