These days, the political world is waiting on bated breath for Joe Biden. His every utterance is parsed for clues about a presidential campaign that seems more inevitable with each passing moment. News that the former vice president had hired staff in New Hampshire and South Carolina set off a flurry of speculation. So did the revelation that his family supported a third White House bid. Polls – both nationally and in the early states – show him at or near the top of the heap of contenders.
Assuming Biden makes it official, he will encounter a far different political climate than his last two White House attempts in 1988 and 2008. True, both previous bids took place in years with Democrats trying to wrest the presidency back from transformative Republicans. But beyond that, the similarities end.
Biden’s age isn’t his biggest Achilles heel. He’s a year younger than Bernie Sanders, whose surprising showing in 2016 proved that 70 is the new 50 in politics. Biden and Sanders may be atop the polls now, but their respective brand of politics are headed in opposite directions.
After decades as a lonely voice howling into the wind, Sanders’ socialist manifesto is on the ascent – in both name and spirit. His ideas remain as impractical as they are unaffordable and yet Sanders’ policy agenda has become a ticket to compete in the primary field. Sanders’ uncompromising anger has replaced Biden’s old school method of doing business, which combines a reliably center-left policy agenda with a backslapping and genial demeanor.
In Biden’s home state of Delaware, there is a tradition dating back to 1812 called “Return Day.” Two days after the November elections, both the winning and losing candidate appear together in the town of Georgetown to literally bury a hatchet in sand from nearby Lewes Beach. It’s a sign of comity and a pledge to leave past differences in the past.
Back in 2008, as vice-president elect, Biden called Return Day “the coolest event in the entire United States of America.” Nowadays, his fellow Democrats are more interested in throwing proverbial hatchets than burying them.
Consider the recent brouhaha over Mike Pence. Hours after Biden referred to his successor as vice president, as a “decent guy,” he was blasted on Twitter by Cynthia Nixon, the actress turned hard-left and failed candidate. Recognizing the political landmine he had stepped on, Biden groveled with a public apology but the damage was done.
It wasn’t the first time Biden came under fire for being complimentary toward a Republican. Last fall during a speech that paid him $200,000 (more on that later), Biden lavished praise on U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who at the time was locked in a completive race Democrats badly wanted to win. Upton held on, with bipartisan praise from Biden lending a hand in ads on his behalf.
Both episodes highlighted just how far the political landscape has shifted under Biden’s feet. No longer is it acceptable to say nice things about a politician with different worldviews. The days of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil battling over policy by day and coming together over an adult beverage in the evening are in the rearview mirror – as distant as Joe Biden’s first presidential run.
His outdated political philosophy is not Biden’s only weakness. He’s a white male. He’s a relic of the past in a party seeking a fresh face. He has built a career taking care of the financial services industry that operates in his home state of Delaware. He has poured cold water on socialism.
Much like Hillary Clinton, Biden faces pitfalls on the treacherous path from public service to private citizen back to the political arena. Freed from the constraints of elected office, middle-class Joe has taken advantage of the paid speaking tour. Biden has already faced prickly headlines about his hefty paid speaking fees and his rock star-like demands of “angel hair pomodoro, Caprese salad and raspberry sorbet with biscotti,” as described by the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Although the political world may be waiting, the sun has already set on Joe Biden’s White House dreams. His party has moved on and his moment has passed.