Joe Biden is officially not running for United States president – for real this time. He didn’t exactly drop out of the race – it’s hard to “drop out” of a race you’ve been watching from the sidelines – but, given the persistent rampant speculation that, at any moment, he would launch his third presidential campaign and snatch the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton, it seems like he ended something.
Still, it wasn’t like a nation’s hopes and dreams were resting on his shoulders.
The distance between Biden and Clinton on policy issues is so narrow that they’d be forcibly separated by chaperones at a high school prom. And in a campaign in which Clinton has pushed women’s issues to the fore, Biden would have had some uncomfortable questions to answer about, among other things, his treatment of Anita Hill during US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings.
And though lectern manufacturers (no, it’s not a podium) may take a hit now that debate hosts don’t have to keep one warm for him, the only people who are really crying today are those people who hated the thought of “having” to vote for Hillary Clinton.
To those people, I can only say: it’s time to suck it up. The latest polling had her up by at least 20 points over every other candidate in the race with Biden in it; the narrowest recent poll shows that, with Biden out, her lead over Bernie Sanders among Democratic primary voters goes to 25 points.
Plus, despite the conventional wisdom that Donald Trump can’t possibly win the Republican nomination, he’s been atop the GOP leaderboard for 100 straight days. The first post-debate CNN/ORD poll shows Clinton leading over Trump outside the margin of error and, though her unfavourables aren’t great, they’re trumped by Trump’s.
Clinton’s Achilles heel has always been her supposed divisiveness, but she may well end up facing a Republican next November whose entire political strategy is to divide Americans into people cheering his supposed truth-telling about Mexicans and Muslims and Megyn Kelly menstruating, and the great silent majority of people who think that he’s wrong, offensive and would be a terrible president.
Trump is almost certainly not the person to be answering a 3am phone call, as Clinton asked voters to contemplate in 2008; on a bad day, he’s not even a person most of us would trust with our Twitter password and the retweet button. But, again, he’s the ongoing Republican frontrunner – which, one assumes, is why the “scoop” that Biden was going to declare his candidacy went to Fox News and not the New York Times.
Nobody wanted an alternative (and one known to run mediocre campaigns) to the Clinton juggernaut more than conservatives.
With Biden out of the race, Republicans face the horrifying possibility that Clinton and Sanders will run positive – even frighteningly adult – primary campaigns, highlighting their differences in ways that play to their respective strengths before Sanders bows to what may become the inevitable electoral odds in Clinton’s favour. And all this would happen while Republicans continue to snipe at one another and Trump continues to be Trumpish.
Biden’s withdrawal from the race gives his base of supporters two choices: throw support behind Clinton (the polls suggest they will) or try to “feel the Bern”. With the Republican Party drifting further right into sideshow territory, it’s hard to see which, if any, of the GOP candidates can capture the near-mythical Reagan Democrats who might have been Biden’s base after a Republican primary season in which popularity is a function of candidate’s willingness to be the biggest jerk.
In a sense, the height of the pro-woman legacy Biden has carefully nurtured might be refusing to run. By doing so, he may have helped secure the US’s first female president. – © Guardian News & Media 2015
Megan Carpentier is the US opinion editor for the Guardian in New York