With the benefit of hindsight, it’s painfully clear that Joe Biden wasn’t ready to run for president—and that the media were engaged in wishful thinking in saying he was on the verge.
In fact, the whole thing seems to have been relentlessly hyped by the usual coterie of political operatives and their media enablers.
Just about every time Biden addressed the question, he spoke as a father grieving for his late son. He openly said he might not be ready by the time he had to make a decision on a third White House campaign. And that’s what happened in the Rose Garden yesterday, when Biden said “unfortunately I believe we’re out of time—the time necessary to mount a winning campaign.”
You could practically hear the sighs of disappointment among journalists who now feel they are left to cover a Hillary coronation. Especially after Biden gave the speech he would have given if he were announcing for president.
The media’s performance here was rather embarrassing. How many cycles did we go through where some news organization would breathlessly report that the VP would make his decision by the end of the month, the end of the week, the end of the day, certainly by the first debate? Those stories were both ephemeral and meaningless.
The speculation sweepstakes began in August, with that Biden leak to Maureen Dowd about how Beau, in his final weeks, had urged his dad to run for the top job.
It was natural for journalists to assess what a Biden campaign would look like: Could he assemble an organization and raise the money? What was his rationale? How would this be different than his failed attempts in 1987 and 2008? Would he go after Hillary?
The Wall Street Journal kept writing stories like this one, in late August, saying Biden “is increasingly leaning toward entering the race if it is still possible he can knit together a competitive campaign at this late date, people familiar with the matter said.”
Politico’s Mike Allen weighed in with this exclusive in early October: “Confidants of Vice President Joe Biden expect him to make a decision next weekend, or shortly thereafter, on whether to launch an epic battle with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. Several people who have visited Biden recently said he seems to be leaning ‘yes.’”
By the time CNN was openly advertising that there was an empty podium waiting for Joe in Las Vegas, the press was practically begging Biden to get into the race.
Then Clinton knocked it out of the park against Bernie Sanders and those other guys, and the media romance quickly cooled.
Biden had missed his moment. Why had he waited so long? It was too late. That must have been true—everyone was saying it.
But then Biden’s Delaware pal, Ted Kaufman, put out a letter saying hold on, he still might run. And with the veep making calls to Democratic operatives, all of which was quickly leaked, the media became convinced that this was it: Joe was ready to take the plunge.
There were qualifiers, of course. Fox’s Ed Henry quoted sources as saying Biden was telling Democrats he would likely get in, but not for awhile, and not within the 48 hours that MSNBC was reporting. Biden began taking not-so-veiled shots at Hillary. Only he truly spoke for President Obama. He did a bit of revisionist history in saying he had backed the mission that killed Osama bin Laden after all. The clamor grew louder. It was only a question of when.
And then Biden pulled the plug.
I was always skeptical after seeing Biden pour out his heart with Stephen Colbert, a 72-year-old man who was obviously not ready for the grueling nature of a campaign. It did seem like Biden was sending positive signals in recent days, but I assumed he wanted to leave himself the option of running. He never got there. And if he had, the media scrutiny and attacks would have begun moments after he left the safe perch of non-candidacy.
Sometimes the pundits want a story to be true so fervently that they try to will it into existence. But Biden ignored the echo chamber and listened to his heart.