Update, 12:20 p.m.: He’s not running. “Unfortunately, I believe we’re out of time,” he said Wednesday from the Rose Garden.
Elections, especially primaries, are won with narratives as much as policy. Barack Obama won the presidency with hope and change, not his policy on Iraq. George W. Bush ran on honor and dignity, and also on being a bridge between two warring parties.
Now comes Joe Biden, who sounds a lot more these days like he’s running for president, and who sounds at least a little like the two campaigners who last held the office.
“The other team is not the enemy,” the vice president said last night in a speech at the Four Seasons hotel in Washington. “If you treat it as the enemy there is no was we can ever ever solve the problems we have to.”
Earlier in the night, he said this: “I really respect the members up there and I still have a lot of Republican friends. I don’t think my chief enemy is the Republican Party. This is a matter of making things work.”
The “enemy” line, of course, is a very intentional poke at Hillary Clinton, who very intentionally included Republicans last week as among the enemies she’s most proud to have.
But Biden’s poke is also the foundation of a sound campaign strategy, if the VP finally decides he wants one.
First, the election doesn’t have a bridge-builder yet. We have the combative Donald Trump, who’s doing fine with his own blustery narrative, Make America Great Again. We have a slew of Republicans who aren’t going to get primary votes by talking about nice Democrats are. We also have Clinton, who has a long and public dislike of Republicans, and Bernie Sanders, who merely loathes their policies.
That leaves Biden, who seems to understand that non-incumbency elections – at least the most recent ones – aren’t won by stoking hatred of the other guys. They’re won by appealing to the moderate 10-20 percent who haven’t pledged themselves permanently to party or ideology. These are the voters who are worn out on partisan wars and the paralysis they cause. These also are the voters who are particularly receptive to a “bring us together” candidate.
As it happens, that jacket fits Biden well. He’s long been a Democrat who worked with Republicans, both as a senator and vice president who helped steer the country away from the fiscal cliff in 2010.
You might remember that Clinton also once worked well – or at least better – with Republicans. She was admired across the aisle when she was a U.S. Senator from New York, and Republicans regularly praised her as Secretary of State – at least pre-Benghazi and before she announced for 2016.
Now, she’s a self-declared enemy, even if that declaration was a bit tongue-in-cheek. It was mistake on her part, however, and it will be accentuated this week as Clinton goes to battle with the House Benghazi committee.
Will Joe Biden exploit it? If he decides to run, he has a ready-made narrative, one that’s difficult to run against. Just ask Al Gore and John McCain.
Peter St. Onge