Former Vice President Joe Biden is stoking speculation he will be a presidential candidate in 2020. Before he hits the campaign trail again, you can find him in a less familiar venue: the fashion magazine circuit.
InStyle’s website sandwiches the denim-clad Biden between two images of last month’s cover girl Julia Roberts, teasing an interview about his difficult past year and future political aspirations alongside a similar profile of the Hollywood actress and a video of Roberts playing the game “Kiss, Marry, Kill” with the choices of George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Hugh Grant.
All beautiful people past their prime? Maybe not. Biden is out promoting his new book Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose. Unlike Hillary Clinton’s campaign memoir What Happened, it is less an attempt to help Democrats make sense of what went wrong than a reminder of what might have been — and perhaps still could be.
With the benefit of hindsight, Biden looks like a happy warrior who could have appealed to the working-class whites who disliked Clinton and swung last year’s election to President Trump. His reasons for not running then — lingering grief from the 2015 death of his son Beau and not having time to compete financially with the Clinton fundraising machine — are sympathetic. Beau Biden had hoped his father would seek the presidency for a third time.
As former President Barack Obama’s number two, Biden also reminds Democrats of when they were winning presidential elections rather than losing them. When Obama tweeted in recognition of his two-time running mate’s 75th birthday last week, it quickly went viral — unlike most posts involving septuagenarians.
“Barack Obama celebrated Joe Biden's birthday with a perfect meme,” cheered Elle, another fashion and beauty magazine.
“I’m not doing anything to run,” Biden insisted earlier this month. “I’m not taking names, I’m not raising money, I’m not talking to anybody, but something’s got to happen.” But he had also said he is “not closing the door” and several Democrats told the Washington Examiner that it would be hard for him to call it quits while still in good shape after being in public service since he was in his 20s.
“There is no heir apparent,” said Rodell Mollineau, a Democratic strategist. “He has as much a claim to the 2020 nomination as anyone else thinking of running.” Mollineau described Biden as “one of the best foreign and domestic policy experts” inside the Democratic Party.
“I think the latest Biden PR drive is about more than selling books,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “It feels like Biden really wants to run. He probably feels with some justification that he could have beat Trump if he had run in 2016. I'm sure that Biden would have won enough electoral votes in the industrial Midwest (Pennsylvania and Michigan) to put himself in the White House. His ‘Uncle Joe’ personality would have contrasted nicely with Trump's ‘Mr. Mean’ persona.”
Veteran political journalist Al Hunt has argued another Biden campaign could succeed — “with caveats.” “Biden would have to pick a special type of running mate well in advance, plan only to serve one term and release all his health records. And he'd have to be running against President Donald Trump,” Hunt wrote.
Trump is the key to neutralizing many of Biden’s perceived liabilities, according to some Democrats. The most obvious is age: while Biden would be nearing his 78th birthday on Election Day, Trump would be 74. Clinton and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren would both be in their 70s. Bernie Sanders is even older than Biden.
Not only would Biden’s gaffes seem insignificant, even lighthearted and charming, after four years of Trump, sympathetic Democrats argue, but “Joe being Joe” would now look like an asset after Trump beat a Democrat who was seen as overly programmed. Scripted and cautious Biden is not, especially at this late stage of his political career. “He gives zero fucks,” Mollineau said.
“Biden could totally be himself and it would still be a step back toward normalcy” after Trump, said a Democratic operative who requested anonymity to speak candidly.
The biggest worry some Democrats have about Biden is that his long career in Washington would become a problem, just as Clinton found that many centrist policy positions party leaders took in the 1990s are out of vogue among liberals — especially crime and welfare policies now widely regarded by progressives as catastrophic failures.
“The question for the former VP is whether he can appeal to the Berniecrats who have become a powerful force in the party,” Bannon said. “Sanders supporters might have a tough time with a candidate who has been part of the Democratic establishment so long.”
Amanda Terkel, the Washington bureau chief for the left-leaning HuffPost, recently wondered if Biden could survive the scrutiny of “post-Harvey Weinstein America.” Despite his socially liberal voting record, longtime feminists do not fondly remember his stewardship of the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991.
And while he has never faced sexual harassment allegations himself, there is ample video and photographic evidence of awkward touching of women. All it would take is for one recipient of his attention to come forward and say it was unwelcome to create a political problem.
“He has evolved ― but so have his party and the country,” Terkel wrote. “And the newly energized women under the Democratic tent may not want a relic from the pre-woke era to be their standard-bearer.”
That hasn’t stopped Biden’s book tour from becoming a hit with women’s magazines. He has to hope that some things, like his politics, never go out of fashion.