by EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE · November 10, 2017
With Barack Obama sitting out politics and many Democrats wary of reaching out to the Clintons, Joe Biden’s appeal as a party leader has grown since January. | Patrick Semansky/AP Photo
Joe Biden thinks it’s critical that Donald Trump not get a second term — and though it’s early, he doesn’t yet see anyone else who could stop that from happening.
So, he’s been telling people privately, that might mean he’ll just have to run himself.
After beginning the year both teasing a 2020 bid and ruling one out — sometimes on the same day — Biden in recent months has shifted unmistakably in favor of running, say multiple people who’ve been in touch with the former vice president and his team.
For the first time in what would be the sixth presidential campaign that he’s either seriously flirted with or launched, Biden sees an argument for a candidacy for which he is the only answer: An elder statesman who can help repair the damage and divisions in the country and around the world, unite the competing wings of the Democratic Party, and appeal to traditional Democratic voters who fled last year for Trump.
“He’s a great respecter of fate,” said one person close to the former vice president. “At some point, it may turn into fate and planning.”
Many Democrats are wary about pegging the future of the party with Biden, who will be 77 by 2020, the oldest potential candidate in the field other than Bernie Sanders. Though a clutch player in both Obama campaigns, he has proved to be bad at running for president himself, and would likely be facing a raucous and crowded primary full of candidates determined not to step aside and repeat the Hillary Clinton coronation.
Next week, Biden will launch a tour for his new book, “Promise Me, Dad,” a memoir of his relationship with his son Beau, whose death in May 2015 triggered both the last-minute exploration by Biden of a 2016 run and the emotional devastation that ultimately caused him to pull the plug.
People familiar with the planning describe the tour as deliberately structured to avoid politics. Biden’s staff is pushing off nearly every request to appear at fundraisers or other political events while he’s traveling for it.
But there’s another, more subtle purpose, some acknowledge: to test Biden’s emotional stamina, should he decide to throw himself fully into a presidential run.
“Right now, he’s pretty laser-focused on the book tour. Get through that and go see what we can do in ‘18, and see where things are then,” said a person in touch with Biden’s advisers, who have stayed in close communication since leaving their government jobs in January.
On top of an already busy travel schedule, his book events will kick off with an Oprah Winfrey interview and keep him on the road through mid-December. He has stops scheduled in New York, Washington and Boston, but also Tennessee, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Texas and Michigan.
With former President Barack Obama largely sitting out politics and many Democrats wary of reaching out to the Clintons, Biden’s appeal as a party leader has grown since January. He has received at least five requests for endorsements or events each week, sources close to him say.
Biden is planning to spend the first quarter of 2018 focused on fundraising for old friends in the Senate, with possible additional appearances for state parties or directly backing House candidates. Twelve of the 14 candidates he backed in Tuesday’s election won, including a Washington state Senate race that flipped the chamber to Democrats and the Manchester, New Hampshire, mayor’s race. He also supported, Danica Roem, the transgender candidate who won a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. Roem first met Biden after traveling to Wilmington, Delaware, for the Beau Biden wake.
Another person close to Biden stressed that his focus now is on helping elect other Democrats.
“The VP is out working furiously to support and promote Democrats at all levels because he believes the future of the party is bright,” the person said.
In op-eds and speeches, Biden has gone after Trump without mentioning him by name. He uses words like “incoherence” and “inconsistent,” and notes that many foreign leaders have reached out to him, confused by Trump’s actions.
He’s also keeping tabs on how other people are hitting the president, reaching out to members of Congress whom he sees on TV to cheer them on.
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), who got his start in politics as a college student volunteering on Biden’s 1988 presidential campaign, described getting one of those calls.
“It was Vice President Biden just calling to tell me he was watching and he saw me on CNN, I was strong, and I should keep it up,” Deutch said. “This is clearly a guy who’s paying close attention to what’s going on and wants to be a part of it.”
Biden’s PAC, American Possibilities, launched in May. It has raised money only through emails, but the group expects to have between $500,000 and $1 million in its coffers by the end of this year. It will begin doling out more of that money in 2018. So far this year, Alabama Senate candidate Doug Jones, governor and lieutenant governor candidates in Virginia and New Jersey, and six state statehouse candidates have received donations from the group.
Among Obama alumni, there’s deep skepticism that Biden will go through with a run. And while Obama and Biden have seen each other somewhat regularly since leaving office in January, they have not had any in-depth conversations about 2020, sources close to both men say.
While some big money Democrats have been wary about pegging the future of the party with a former two-term vice president, some former Clinton donors have reached out with interest, as have former Obama donors.
“If someone emerges that the former VP believes can beat [Trump], I think he is at peace with that,” said one Biden-friendly donor. “On the other hand, if that person doesn’t exist or doesn’t run, you can expect Joe Biden to take a very serious look.”
Biden spokesman Bill Russo declined to comment.
The chatter has gotten so intense in some corners that there’s even scuttlebutt among Democratic operatives that Biden could launch his candidacy with California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate from Day One. People close to both of them insist that talk didn’t start with them. When Biden was exploring a 2016 bid, there was similar speculation that he would run with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Biden has been reading articles about Trump’s dealings abroad and the Russia investigation, and getting more upset.
He outlined this thinking in a speech last week to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs peppered with projections.
“How many of you — I mean this sincerely — how many of you, when the president was elected, were either happy or bemused or a little embarrassed or not quite sure, but now are really fundamentally worried about our democracy or the prospect of an international conflict or nuclear war?” Biden said. “How many of you now, whether you voted for him or not, are beginning to wonder whether or not the very roots of the invisible moral fabric that holds everything up is eroding in a way that’s going to be dangerous for democratic institutions?”
Barely a mile away, the Obama Foundation was holding its inaugural summit, where Biden had been in talks to make an appearance.
Instead, he met for coffee with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the former Obama chief of staff who’s renewed his role as a behind-the-scenes strategist for what the Democratic Party should do next.
A spokesman declined to comment on what they discussed.