Joe Biden Drops Another Hint About His Presidential Intentions

Vice-President Biden dropped another hint that suggests he might not be up to running for President.

Biden Sunglasses

In an interview on Stephen Colbert’s new late night show, Vice-President Biden gave another sign that he may not be up to running for President:

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., in an emotional, wide-ranging interview on Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” on Thursday, expressed doubt about the likelihood that he would run for president, saying that “I’d be lying if I said that I knew I was there.”

Repeatedly touching on his parents, his faith and his emotional fragility from the recent death of his son Beau, Mr. Biden told Mr. Colbert that no “man or woman should run for president” without being able to promise voters that “you have my whole heart, my whole soul, my energy, and my passion.”

“Nobody has a right, in my view, to seek that office unless they are willing to give it 110 percent of who they are,” Mr. Biden told Mr. Colbert, on his third night hosting the CBS program.

Mr. Biden made just a few jokes on the show, saying to Mr. Colbert, who in 2012 ran a fake campaign for president, that “you should run for president again, and I’ll be your vice president.”

The vice president never said directly that he did not plan to run for president, a decision that would disappoint the handful of “Draft Biden” supporters who chanted “Run, Joe, Run” in front of the Ed Sullivan Theater in Manhattan, where the show was taped Thursday afternoon.

But Mr. Biden repeatedly seemed to hint that he may not be ready to run for president for a third time. He described himself as “optimistic” about the country and “positive about where we are going,” but he stumbled as he sought to describe what was holding him back.

“I find myself … you understand, sometimes it just sort of overwhelms you. I can’t. …,” he said, trailing off. Mr. Biden then told a story about how he broke down when he was greeting members of the military and their families at a rope line in Denver and one of them mentioned Beau.

“It was going great,” Mr. Biden recalled, choking up. “All of a sudden, a guy in the back yells, ‘Major Beau Biden. Bronze Star, Sir. Served with him in Iraq.’ I lost it.”

“How can you? That’s not …. You can’t do that,” he said.

Mr. Colbert repeatedly seemed to try to prod Mr. Biden to run, saying at one point that the American people were inspired by the vice president because of the tragedies he had endured. In addition to the death of his son, Mr. Biden’s first wife and his daughter were killed in a car accident in 1972.

Mr. Colbert, who lost his father and two brothers in an airplane crash, told Mr. Biden: “It’s going to be emotional for a lot of people if you don’t run. Your example of suffering and service is something that would be sorely missed in the race.”

Mr. Biden seemed almost embarrassed by the praise, saying: “I feel self-conscious. The loss is serious and it’s consequential, but there are so many other people going through this.”

At Mr. Colbert’s urging, he also discussed religion and philosophy at length, describing his Roman Catholic faith as providing an “enormous sense of solace.” He attributed part of it to the rituals of his religion.

“I go to Mass, and I’m able to be just alone, even in a crowd,” Mr. Biden said. He recalled how his wife, Jill, once taped a note on his bathroom mirror with a quote from the philosopher Kierkegaard that said, “Faith sees best in the dark.”

There was one moment when Mr. Biden seemed to suggest where he might find the strength to run. He noted that his mother had a favorite expression: “As long as you are alive, you have an obligation to strive, and you’re not dead until you see the face of God.”

Mr. Biden said he did not want to let his family down by allowing the weight of the tragedies to keep him from continuing to strive.

“No one owes you anything,” Mr. Biden said. “You got to get up. And I feel like I was letting down Beau, letting down my parents, letting down my family.” Mr. Colbert interrupted, asking why they would be let down. “If I didn’t just get up,” Mr. Biden said.

“I marvel at the ability of people who absorb hurt and just get back up,” he said.

These comments from Biden come just a week after he made similar remarks during a speech in Florida that seemed to express doubt about the ability of both his family and himself to invest the emotional and physical energy needed for the kind of campaign that he would need to run to take on Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Certainly, Biden of all people has the right to question whether he’s up for a run given that everything he’s been through. In addition to his son’s long battle with cancer and death earlier this year, Biden is a man still obviously marked by the tragedy that marked the beginning of his political career when his first wife and young daughter were killed in an automobile accident that left both of his sons gravely injured. It’s never been something that he’s worn on his sleeve, or used for political purposes, but one could always tell that it was something that has deeply affected him all of his life. Now, with the loss of his son, the prospect of jumping back into politics when thoughts of retirement would logically seem to occur, it’s not at all surprising that Biden would be doubtful about his ability to really do what it takes to run for President of the United States.

I’m certainly not going to express an opinion about how Biden should balance his personal and family issues and his political ambitions, but, as I’ve stated before, it’s never been quite apparent what the logic of a Biden campaign for the White House would actually be. Hillary Clinton can just as easily claim the mantle of being a successor to President Obama, and she has a far deeper constituency inside the Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, has seemingly locked up the support of the parties progressive wing for the time being. It’s hard to see where Biden fits in that kind of race, unless he’s there simply as the “In case of emergency” candidate in the event that Clinton’s ongoing problems become a far more serious threat to her electability than they are now. Even in that situation, though, Biden would need to get into the race by sometime in November at the latest in order to get on the ballot in the early primary states. Given the fact that there are no signs that he’s done any of the preliminary organizing one sees from someone seriously considering a run for the White House, it seems clear that he’s leaning against running, either for the reasons he has stated or for other reasons entirely.

As for the interview itself, Chris Cillizza notes that it demonstrates some of Biden’s best skills as a politician:

Joe Biden’s unique trait as a politician is — and always has been — his honesty. Sometimes that honesty gets him into varying degrees of trouble. Sometimes it makes it seem as though he’s the closest thing to a real person you could possibly hope for in politics.

Biden’s appearance with Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show” Thursday nightwas one of those latter moments. Colbert, known mainly for the faux conservative he played on “The Colbert Report,” largely avoided playing for laughs — asking Biden to talk about the death of his son, Beau, as well as how he was approaching the decision on whether to run for president in 2016.

Biden was remarkably frank — on all fronts — and, according to the pool report, choked up several times during the interview. ”No one owes you anything,” Biden said of how he is dealing with the loss of his son. “You’ve got to get up. And I feel like I was letting down Beau, letting down my parents, letting down my family if I didn’t just get up.”


The Joe Biden on display with Colbert is the person who has inspired remarkable loyalty — over decades — from a tightknit group of staffers who would form the core of his presidential brain trust if he decided to run in 2016. It’s the guy who, for a time in 1987, was one of the front-runners for the Democratic presidential nomination. It’s who Barack Obama saw when he decided to pick Biden as his vice president in 2008.

It’s also someone who would drive a striking contrast with Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail. Where Clinton is struggling with the perception that she is neither honest nor trustworthy, Biden is all honesty. Where Clinton is cautious and closed off, Biden is spontaneous and an open book.

Of course, while those traits served Biden well in his interview with Colbert, there’s plenty of evidence in his political past that suggests that his honesty is a double-edged sword that often cuts more negatively than positively. Clinton is a far more disciplined candidate than Biden and has a more finely tuned ear as to what to say when.

That last part, of course, is the biggest question about a potential Biden campaign for the White House. His past solo campaigns for national office has been, to say the least, less than stellar. In 1987, what seemed like it might be a promising campaign for the Democratic nomination in 1988 ended early when it was revealed that he had been using speeches made by British politician Neil Kinnock, then the leader of the Labour Party, and attributing Kinnock’s biography as his own as well as revelations about a plagarism incident in law school and the fact that he had falsely told some voters that he had graduated in the top half of his law school class.. As it turned out, his 1988 campaign likely would have ended early in any case since Biden was hospitalized in February of that year with a brain aneuryism that required surgery and kept him out of the Senate for most of the year. His 2008 campaign existed mostly in the shadows of President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards. While his debate performances leading up to the beginning of the primaries were widely seen as quite good, he ended up placing fifth in the Iowa Caucuses behind even former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and dropping out of the race. Given all that, if Biden doesn’t have the heart for anything try at the White House, it would be perfectly understandable.

Here’s the interview:

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Moosebreath says:

    Moreover, it is hard to see anyone getting an organization up and running in time for the Iowa caucus in 4 1/2 months time and hope to beat a well-known and, among Democrats, well-liked candidate like Hillary. As Yogi Berra put it, “It’s getting late early”.

  2. DrDaveT says:

    It was a fascinating interview, though I wished Colbert would stop pushing so hard.

    I have a bit of respect for Biden, but I think he’s just too old and tired and frustrated at this point. Taking on the complete dysfunction of our Legislative branch would require either boundless energy or dogged persistence… I think Joe realizes this, and doesn’t see himself as being able to bring either to the table.

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    Joe is too old. You can already see the strain on Sanders. Running for president is no an old man’s game.

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    Joe is too old. You can already see the strain on Sanders. Running for president is no an old man’s game.

  5. Gromitt Gunn says:

    He is an absolutely lovely man. And one of the few politicians I will actually believe when he finally says that it is time for him to leave politics and spend time with his family. I would be hard pressed to think of a public figure who deserves it more than he does.

  6. Todd says:

    Hillary Clinton can just as easily claim the mantle of being a successor to President Obama

    No. It could just be the fact that I’ve soured on her, but there was one point during her interview with Andrea Mitchell last week where she said something like “I am the one who can make the American people believe that someone is on their side again”. It could just be standard boilerplate political speech, but it rubbed me the wrong way. I can’t escape the feeling that even 7 years after that primary there’s still no love lost between her and President Obama.

    I think Joe Biden would enthusiastically run as on the idea of a 3rd Obama term. Hillary Clinton on the other hand, strikes as more of the dumb/cautious type of Democrat would try to keep the President from campaigning for her in places where he might be “unpopular” … and we saw how well that worked out for the last of Southern Democratic Senators.

  7. Tyrell says:

    With Hillary dropping in the polls, there is a lot of talk about possible “replacements”. Some names mentioned are Gore, and Kerry. Ridiculous. If that is all they have left on their shelf, they are in worse shape than we thought. They would be better off trying to draft Nader, or Bill Gates. General Powell would be a wise consideration. We have not heard much from Martin (the “apologist”) O’Malley, or Jim (“Silent Jim”) Webb. With Webb’s military background, he could be holding a good hand considering the volatile situation in the Middle East, Putin moving south, Turkey falling apart, the refugee situation, and ISIS on the move.
    But don’t count Hillary out: a shrewd stategist and campaigner.

  8. An Interested Party says:

    Hillary Clinton…would try to keep the President from campaigning for her in places where he might be “unpopular” …

    Hmm…I don’t think she is that dumb or quite that cautious…it certainly doesn’t hurt that she’ll have an even better campaigner than Obama stumping for her…

  9. James Joyner says:

    I watched the Biden interview last night and came to the opposite conclusion: that it was the moment the Draft Biden campaign got real.

    While it’s most apparent in the craziness of the Republican campaign—where the unqualified Donald Trump and Ben Carson account for half of the total support in the field—there’s a genuine anti-politician mood in the country as a whole. The Democrats are souring fast on Hillary, which is why Bernie Sanders—a very minor figure in Democratic politics at the time of his announcement—is doing so well. And why calls for Biden, Gore, or someone else are so strong.

    Biden is, of course, the politician’s politician. He got elected to the Senate at 29 and has been in Washington ever since. But he’s managed to keep the persona of an everyman who just says what he thinks without any concern about how people will react. I think, this year in particular, that would propel him to the nomination and quite likely the White House.