An obvious rule in politics is to never highlight your Achilles’ heel. You would think, having been first elected in 1972 when Richard Nixon was still president, Joe Biden might know that.
If elected, Mr. Biden would serve as president into his 80s. That’s well up there. Brian Mulroney is 80. Last we heard he isn’t thinking of making a comeback. Joe Clark is only 79. He doesn’t want another kick at the can either.
Mr. Biden knows that his age, 76, is a blot on his prospects. But instead of playing it down, he’s megaphoning it by floating a couple of very dumb ideas.
One thing Mr. Biden is contemplating is a promise that he will only serve as president for one term. That’s not done in presidential politics. In effect, he is saying: “elect me and I will be a lame duck right out of the starting gate. Yep, I could be keeling over by the end of my first term. So I promise to skedaddle."
But do Democrats really want to nominate someone who’ll be hobbled from the get-go? They have a big field of 15 candidates, several of them not much more than half his age. The contestants include six women and two African Americans. That Mr. Biden is leading the polls with Bernie Sanders – the 77-year-old Vermont senator who has avoided the age rap because his extraordinary appeal to millennials – is a product primarily of name recognition.
Mr. Biden’s second idea, which gives his candidacy a look of discomfort if not distress before it even begins, is to name his vice-presidential pick right away – a year and a half before the election. No running mate has ever been picked so early.
In so doing, Mr. Biden would again be broadcasting the fact that he is a candidate with caveats who can’t afford to follow the norms. To counter the old white guy tag, his team is floating the name of Stacey Abrams, a 46-year-old African American lawyer who served in the Georgia legislature and lost a tight race in 2016 to become that state’s governor, to join his ticket. She also delivered the party’s response to Donald Trump’s State of the Union this year. It was a mediocre performance, but got good reviews nonetheless.
Mr. Biden might not go ahead with these ideas. They are trial balloons. But by reportedly even considering them, he has only served to highlight his shortcomings. His campaign could tank before it begins. Major donors have signalled to him that they are not enthusiastic about him running: In the latest poll, he has fallen from a sizable lead down to 26 per cent support, which has him tied with Mr. Sanders. Kamala Harris is at 12 per cent and Beto O’Rourke is at 11.
If he enters, the likelihood is that as the interminable campaign rolls on and the fresh faces make themselves known, it will become more obvious that the party doesn’t have go with a candidate with his disadvantages.
Mr. Biden has already run twice for president, and failed dismally on each occasion. He’s error-prone, having even labelled himself a “gaffe machine.” He’s old-school, he’s establishment, he’s short on new thinking. In terms of experience, he would be the most qualified candidate – but so was Hillary Clinton.
On the plus side, Mr. Biden is a moderate who would rid the party of the socialist image the Republicans are trying to pin on it. He has the common touch and, as he showed in the vice-presidential debate against Paul Ryan in 2012, he’s formidable on the attack.
But there are doubts as to whether an attacker is what the party needs against Mr. Trump. This president has been smeared and beaten down like few others, and what happens? Not much. His support numbers never change. His faults, failings, and brutal character flaws are well known, and are factored in at this point. He does so many shocking things that shock doesn’t register any more. He’s lowered the bar so much that it’s near impossible to crawl under.
To take him down the Democrats need a fresh approach. The candidate with caveats isn’t the one to provide it.