Joe Biden

Joe Biden Is Probably Running for President. He's Got a Lot of Baggage.

How will a former vice president with a lot of baggage fare in an increasingly progressive, intersectional Democratic primary?


Abaca Press/Douliery Olivier/Abaca/Sipa USA/Newscom

Joe Biden has made the decision to run for president in 2020, according to Tuesday article published by The Hill.

"I'm giving it a shot," Biden reportedly said on a phone call with senior Democratic lawmakers, lending credence to long-running speculation that the 76-year-old former vice president and senator from Delaware would enter the crowded Democratic primary field.

A spokesperson told The Hill that Biden still has yet to make a final decision. However, this latest news, plus the numerous hints that Biden keeps dropping, make his announcement an almost forgone conclusion.

Should he choose to enter the race, Biden, who's been in public office since the mid-1970s, has a lot of things going for him. The biggest pluses he has are probably high name recognition and his role as vice president in the still fondly remembered Obama administration.

Polls show Biden easily at the top of the field. The latest Monmouth poll has him at 28 percent support, compared to 25 percent for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt). A poll of likely Iowa caucus voters showed Biden with 27 percent, nearly tied with Sanders, and well ahead of the rest of the field.

Meanwhile, as the rest of the Democratic primary contenders are taking a sharp left turn in an effort to appeal to an energized progressive base, Biden's comparative moderation and cross-party appeal could be seen as an asset to moderate Democrats, and even some progressive types, who are keen on beating Donald Trump at all costs.

He's the Democrat Republicans are reportedly most worried about.

Still, it's important not to overstate early polling, which often tests name recognition more than genuine popularity. Those same things that make Biden a popular name now could also sink his chances in a Democratic Party that is becoming increasingly intersectional and progressive.

Biden's most recent gaffe was his decision to call current Vice President Mike Pence "a decent guy." In the good old days, that might have been seen as a gentlemanly thing to do, something that might win you points for trying to rise above it all. In 2019, those remarks were seen as craven praising of the fiercely anti-LGBTQ Pence.

Biden eventually apologized for his remark, but he'll likely run into similar problems with his defense of billionaires, who he says "aren't bad guys."

More significant are Biden's past views on a number of hot button topics, including race and criminal justice, which his opponents will almost certainly hold his feet to the fire over.

Both the Daily Caller and the Washington Examiner have dug up Biden's opposition in the 1970s to busing—a policy whereby school children were bussed to schools often far from their homes in order to create more a more racially integrated school system.

"I think the concept of busing…that we are going to integrate people so that they all have the same access and they learn to grow up with one another and all the rest, is a rejection of the whole movement of black pride," said Biden in a 1972 interview as reported by the Examiner.

Biden was also the primary author of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (sometimes called the Biden Crime Bill) which increased federal sentences, created mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes, and dedicated more money to building prisons and hiring cops.

The bill is often blamed for the explosion in the prison population and leading to our current era of mass incarceration.

Earlier this year, Biden expressed regret for some of the mandatory minimums included in his bill, but it's doubtful that level of contrition will be enough in the eyes of some voters.

Just four years ago, Biden wrote an essay for the Brennan Center on the 1994 crime bill in which he bemoaned cuts to police budgets, failed to mention anything about mandatory minimums, and included lines like "all life matters. And the fact that all life matters is the reason most officers became cops in the first place."

Earlier this month the Huffington Post published an article detailing Biden's opposition to anti-trust regulation in the 1970s and support for financial deregulation in the 1990s, two issues that economic populist like Sanders could use to rake him over the coals.

There's also the matter of Biden's wandering hands.

The former vice president is famous for engaging in some awkward, potentially over-the-line touching of women at public events, which is not necessarily a small issue in the #metoo era. At the very least, it could be an embarrassing thing to have to defend on a debate stage.

There's also the chance that Biden, for all his folksy charm, just isn't as exciting as other candidates in the race. He's an older, white male in a party that is increasingly young and ethnically diverse. He's got only a few big policy ideas in a party that is hungry for Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal.

Biden has yet to make a formal announcement, but that will likely be coming soon. Once he enters the race, there will be a lot of opportunity for him to clarify his positions, and for his opponents to attack his record.

How Biden handles that scrutiny will determine whether his 2020 run will be successful, or just flame out like his previous attempts.