Reading the tea leaves about Vice President Joe Biden’s intentions has become a consuming parlor game in Washington.
Political junkies and journalists have been breathlessly speculating about whether Biden will get into the Democratic presidential race. Every phone call from a Biden aide is examined for hidden meaning.
Biden is now included in every Democratic primary poll. And he’s doing — theoretically — quite well. In some polls he even beats Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has been giving Hillary Clinton a tougher-than-expected challenge, especially in the key early states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
CNN has announced that even if Biden decides to run on Oct. 13, he can still get a spot in the first Democratic debate in Denver that very night.
The truth is that no one in Washington knows what Biden will do, and it’s possible even the vice president himself doesn’t know yet either, even though The Hill newspaper ran a story this week headlined, “Biden’s close friends believe the stars are aligning for his likely presidential bid.”
Biden himself was asked about this recently by Stephen Colbert on the Late Show. It was an emotional moment, coming just weeks after his son Beau died of brain cancer. Biden acknowledged he just wasn’t there yet.
“I’m being completely honest,” Biden said, “nobody has a right, in my view, to seek that office unless they are willing to give it 110 percent of who they are.”
Biden is a beloved figure in the Democratic Party and his appearance on Colbert’s show — so raw and authentic — only reminded Democrats why they have so much affection for him.
But what if Biden does get in the race? Does he have anything to offer that Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders doesn’t — other than his Regular Joe style? He occupies the same centrist, establishment lane in the party that Clinton does.
And, there’s this mystery — vice presidents are usually the heirs apparent, and Biden has now had seven years to lay the foundation for what would be his third try for the presidency.
But he hasn’t done any of the spadework necessary to raise money or build an organization.
So why now? Political analysts are eagerly putting Biden on the couch. Maybe it’s because Clinton looks weaker than expected. Maybe its his son’s death. Or maybe Biden is also mourning the end of his own political career.
Mo Udall, the former Arizona congressman, once said that the only cure for presidential ambition is embalming fluid. And that suggests Biden might rather run — and lose — again, than decide not to run and be haunted by doubts about what might have happened if he did.
There’s also a debate in Democratic circles about whether Biden can afford to wait. In three or four months, it will be clearer if Clinton truly is faltering, and, by then, there might be a real groundswell among establishment types in the party for Biden to get in.
But if he wants to make one last run for the White House, and not wait around for a “Draft Biden” movement among superdelegates to materialize, then he needs to get going now.