Over the years, former vice-president Joe Biden has become famous for his pragmatic demeanor and ability to avoid ignominious defeat and instead become both loved and feared. Now, he faces a serious challenge with his long-awaited, much anticipated announcement this week that he will run for president in 2020. And just how desperate does the 68-year-old former majority leader of the Senate need to be to break through his recent political inactivity?
Biden broke little new ground in the speech in Baltimore on Tuesday that received widespread national coverage. The former senator from Delaware and vice-president under both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton has been hinting at his intentions since last year. His son, Beau, died from brain cancer last May and was accompanied by his widow, Hallie, and their three children as his father introduced his plan to run. The family at one point considered not attending and choosing instead to take a break, Biden revealed in a heartfelt letter to the American people that was delivered shortly before he made his announcement.
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Though Beau’s death has yet to produce the same levels of shock and controversy as Bob Dole’s car accident in 1996 that ended his campaign, or the assassination attempt that derailed Barack Obama’s father at a Chicago rally in 1999, it has undoubtedly, exacerbated Biden’s media crush. That his announcement came just as Donald Trump’s midterm elections are widely seen as a repudiation of the Trump agenda and sent a clear message that Democrats should avoid a tepid compromise with the president, was not lost on the press.
In his remarks on Tuesday, Biden joked that he needed to give Trump “a kiss in peace” in order to “send a message” to him that Democrats were unified in their support for immigration policies and being tough on national security and foreign policy. Since he has struggled to show off his jaw-dropping presidential capabilities, Biden plans to play upon the frequent softball question of his age: “And then, honestly, I just want to get out in front of it, and tell people,” he said of his decision, “I am doing this for the country”.
This sentiment was echoed in a tweet issued by his campaign on Tuesday afternoon: “As proof of his country-first commitment, he said that regardless of what happens tomorrow, he will spend the rest of his life fighting to improve our lives and strengthen our democracy.” This neatly frames his candidacy as about showing unity and staying on the right side of history, instead of running on the bumper sticker of populist solutions that ignores many of the challenges facing the nation.
Biden’s embrace of the American values and policy goals that defined his long term Senate career are certainly intended to bolster a broad enough base of support to avoid defeat at the hands of an extreme candidacy from the far left, which he has already conceded will certainly find a new platform.
He plans to sell his candidacy not just on his policies and successes as a senator, but by selling his ability to “actually bring people together” as his leadership in delivering such success for the country. As he lays out his vision for the country, his strategy to defeat Trump will primarily center on “balancing” the two parties with the addition of independents, as well as insisting that America needs an unifying national leader to counter the toxic influence of Trumpism.
So, how realistic is all of this? Some pundits have already weighed in that this is not a viable candidacy given the depth of support Biden and his family have received since his son’s death, which lead many of them to question the sincerity of his efforts. Others believe it will be far too late in the election cycle to actually become the Democratic candidate and the race, once again, will come down to Trump and Democrats. Despite the recent deal with conservative Democrats to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Democrats have already started reaping some losses at the polls.
However, Biden is still one of the most popular figures in the Democratic party and, having survived the frustration of a failed vice-presidential run in 2008, has never been shied away from a tough race – whether it’s against Donald Trump or his own father in 1964.
Many Democrats still think he is the most viable contender for the White House and the heart of the party. With the rising stakes and intense media scrutiny of the 2020 election, not even a talented liar like Trump can out-negotiate Biden’s argument that he’s the candidate who can unify an opposition that continues to fragment at every turn.