Joe Biden’s Behind The Scenes Political Chess

With time running out for him to make a decision, a new report shows how deeply Vice President Biden has been in stirring up the speculation that is now surrounding him.

Biden Sunglasses

The current round of speculation about Vice President Biden possibly entering the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination largely began in early August, some six weeks after Biden’s son Beau had passed away, when The New York Times reported that Biden was “looking” at getting into the race. That piece ran on the same day as a Maureen Dowd column that purported to relate a conversation that the Vice President had with his dying son in the final weeks of his life in which the younger Biden urged his father to run for President rather than watching the White House revert to the Presidency. At the time, there were many who doubted the veracity of Dowd’s reporting given the fact that something so intimate as a conversation between a father and his dying son could only have come from someone close to the family.

As it turns out, that’s exactly where it came from:

Joe Biden has been making his 2016 deliberations all about his late son since August.

Aug. 1, to be exact — the day renowned Hillary Clinton-critic Maureen Dowd published a column that marked a turning point in the presidential speculation.

According to multiple sources, it was Biden himself who talked to her, painting a tragic portrait of a dying son, Beau’s face partially paralyzed, sitting his father down and trying to make him promise to run for president because “the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.”

It was no coincidence that the preliminary pieces around a prospective campaign started moving right after that column. People read Dowd and started reaching out, those around the vice president would say by way of defensive explanation. He was just answering the phone and listening.

But in truth, Biden had effectively placed an ad in The New York Times, asking them to call.

Before that moment and since, Biden has told the Beau story to others. Sometimes details change — the setting, the exact words. The version he gave Dowd delivered the strongest punch to the gut, making the clearest swipe at Clinton by enshrining the idea of a campaign against her in the words of a son so beloved nationally that his advice is now beyond politics. This campaign wouldn’t be about her or her email controversy, the story suggests, but connected to righteousness on some higher plane.

By every account of those surrounding Biden, Beau is constantly on his father’s mind. But so are Clinton’s poll numbers — and his own, as the vice president notes in private details, such as the crosstab data that show him drawing more support from Clinton than Bernie Sanders. So is the prospect of what it would mean to run against a candidate who would make history as the first female nominee, and potentially first female president. So is knowing that the filing deadlines are quickly closing in and that he almost certainly has to decide in roughly the next week to make even a seat-of-the-pants campaign possible.

“Calculation sort of sounds crass, but I guess that’s what it is,” said one person who’s recently spoken to Biden about the prospect of running. “The head is further down the road than the heart is.”

And that’s how it’s been for a while.

On some level, I suppose, this is entirely unsurprising. Notwithstanding the many complaints that one can make about Maureen Dowd, it always seemed incredibly unlikely that she would have made up a story involving the Vice-President and his dead son, or have put it in print in the nation’s paper of record, without some confidence that it was accurate. Given the kind of details in the story, and especially the fact that it purports to relate what was apparently a conversation only involving the Vice President and his late son, it was always apparent that the source for that story, and the overall theme about Biden taking another look at running for President had to have come from someone close to Biden himself and had to have been related with his permission. The fact that it turned out to be the Vice President himself, though, is interesting because it peels the curtain back just a bit to reveal the calculation that’s going on behind the scenes on Biden’s part, and the extent to which he is at least considering entering the race to be a realistic possibility. This too should be unsurprising given the fact that Biden has been a politician for 45 years ever since he was elected to the New Castle County Council, which was followed quickly by him becoming one of the youngest people in American history to ever be elected to the Senate. Notwithstanding the fact that his two runs for the Presidency have been less than spectacular, Biden remains a skilled politician and the fact that he’s been so directly involved in the maneuvering of the past two months would seem to be a good indication that he’s at least thinking seriously about getting into the race.  The fact that the polling has shown him inching closer to Hillary Clinton is likely playing a role in his decision making as well.

Even taking all of that into account, though, it’s still unclear to everyone except perhaps Biden himself exactly what he is going to do. Over the weekend, Politico and other news outlets reported that we were likely to hear a decision from the Vice-President one way or the other by the end of this week or over the upcoming weekend. If Biden were to announce, it would be an interesting time considering that it’s already been reported that he is likely to skip the upcoming Democratic debate on October 13th, a decision that may not stand if he decides to get into the race. If Biden were to run, though, we’re approaching the drop dead date for him not so much because of the debate, but because of the ballot access filing deadlines that will start coming up in November in many of the early primary states. Were Biden to enter the race, he’d at least need enough time to put together the kind of campaign needed to get petition signatures in those states that require them, as well as to do fundraising to cover the costs of getting on the ballot, setting up campaign offices, and the like. Once we get past this weekend, the odds that he’d be able to put together a credible campaign start to diminish substantially, and even if he gets in now he’s still cutting it kind of close. Given the fact that Biden has made it a point on numerous occasions over the past two months that neither he or nor his family may not be emotionally ready for the rigors of a campaign against the Clintons, the idea that he’d get in now seems implausible. We won’t know for sure until he announces one way or the other, though, and reports like today’s news about the role he’s played in leaking favorable news to the press make one wonder if he might just get in after all.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , ,
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. C. Clavin says:

    Don’t do it, Joe…..

  2. Todd says:

    Why can’t I escape the feeling that this was a story pushed by Clinton supporters?

  3. elocs says:

    Joe Biden…the author of the original Patriot Act and at the time he wanted everyone to know it.
    Obama picked him despite as senator his “kill. me. now.” memo about Biden’s droning on and on so as not to have to deal with Hillary and likely as much that Biden was a safe choice who would not run after 8 years. His time has passed him by and his son’s memory can only motivate him for so long. The ABC (Anybody But Clinton) attitude of some Democrats will only carry him so far.

  4. charon says:

    The only person who really knows what if anything Beau said to Joe is Joe – as Charles Pierce observes. More Charles Pierce:

    The whole Biden shadow play is getting very, very old. The inclusion of him in current polling models is one very small step short of ratfcking Hillary Clinton’s numbers, and it does a real disservice to the other candidates as well. (Why not put Mitt Romney or Michael Bloomberg in the Republican field?) What we seem to have is a bunch of generally nervous Democrats, and some Biden loyalists who like to talk to reporters, and who still dream of that West Wing office that was denied them the other two times Joe Biden ran for president and got crushed. Oh, and there are some political reporters who find this whole thing a lot easier than working for a living.

  5. Tillman says:

    If he’s been telling the truth, he’s not getting into the race. If he hasn’t, he doesn’t have the brand necessary to beat Clinton in a primary. Maybe two months ago this was still vague, but everything since then has crystallized into this basic equation.

    @Todd: Wishful thinking? 🙂 I wouldn’t put it past the Clinton camp to draw attention to it, but to come up with it and push it? I believe she’s saving firepower for if he actually declares.

    I question a lot of Clinton’s strategy, but I don’t think she’s stupid enough to [falsely, if it’s a rumor they made up,] undercut a possible Biden campaign by questioning a dying son’s final advice to a grieving father. She already has an image problem, playing into it would be suicide.

  6. Todd says:

    @Tillman: I’m not implying it’s “made up”. But I do think the fact that it got into Politico, and the tone of the article, sure looks like something that would come from people who have an interest in discouraging him from entering the race.

  7. michael reynolds says:


    Yeah, I had the same thought. It was a timely reminder to Joe that it won’t be fun and games.

  8. grumpy realist says:

    Mario Cuomo, redux.

  9. bill says:

    whenever i see biden i just think of phil hartman and how great he would be doing a skit on joe. it would be effortless for the most part.

  10. Moderate Mom says:

    “…a son so beloved nationally…”

    Beau Biden? Most people wouldn’t have known the man if they had tripped over him.

    I’m sure he was very beloved withing his own circle of family and friends, but “beloved nationally” might be smearing it on a bit thick.

  11. Skunk says:

    Wait a minute. JB is qualified to run for Pres? But he is waiting for the grief to pass. One has to accept reality and get on with life. I lost a valued child. But life or the world does not end. How would JB react to a a situation much greater than a personal problem.

  12. the Q says:

    If O”Malley would have had better advice, he could be challenging HRC if he would have come out aggressively….Bernie had nothing to lose so he came out swinging and because a huge % of Dems can’t stand HRC, the ABC folks went for Bernie.

    A Biden Warren ticket (I’ve heard this is the delay in announcing) vis-a-vis would be hard for HRC to beat, since Warren is a woman AND a Bernie type liberal who has shown her bona fides by constantly attacking Wall Street and finance capital.

    She would also blunt JB’s support of TPP.

  13. gary says:

    does anyone really think this alcoholic would be an improvement over Obama?