scorecardresearch Skip to main content
ground game

Joe Biden is everything wrong and everything right with the future of the Democratic Party.

Vice President Joe Biden gestured during a meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (not pictured) in Cartagena on Dec. 1.Guillermo Legaria/AFP/Getty Images

Vice President Joe Biden likes to say that, in politics, “you’re either on the way up or on your way down.”

That might be the best frame of reference to analyze Biden’s presidential aspirations for 2020. After Biden, 74, presided over the Senate on Monday, a CNN reporter jokingly asked him if he was going to run for president.

“Yeah, I am. I’m going to run in 2020,” Biden responded.

Reporters, somewhat in jest, followed up: For what?

“For president,” he said. “What the hell, man.”

And just when you thought Biden was going along with the joke, he explained: “I’m not committing not to run. I’m not committing to anything. I learned a long time ago fate has a strange way of intervening.”


In other words, while Biden will no doubt be on his way down, he still wants people to believe he could come back up again someday.

A month after Donald Trump won the presidency and Democrats nationwide are in their worst political position in 100 years, some party members are looking to Biden as a remedy for their ills. Other party faithful, however, see Biden as exactly the wrong person to chart the party’s future.

Both groups are right. Biden is both the best and the worst figurehead for the future of the Democratic Party at the same time — a symbol of the larger conflict that’s confronting the party.

Biden . . . simply the best

Biden checks two big boxes for the party’s current quandary. Democrats are fearful they are now viewed as a party that cares more about transgender bathroom rights than how families can afford to put food on the table.

Democrats view Biden — the pride of scrappy Scranton, Pa. — as someone who is in touch with these middle-class anxieties. At the same time, he publicly supported gay marriage before President Obama. He’s a man of both worlds: economic and identity politics.


Also, he’s the opposite of Trump in terms of credibility and experience. In fact, he could argue he has decades more experience in dealing with foreign and domestic issues than the soon-to-be incumbent president. He’s literally (get it?) been in elected office since he was able to serve in the US Senate, winning a seat at just 29 years old.

Perhaps most importantly, Biden has ties to Obama and, potentially, his winning coalition of voters. At the start of the recession, Obama was able to marry these two schools for an unprecedented victory. Could the party ever do it again?

Biden . . . simply the worst

But there are valid reasons why Biden didn’t run in 2016. To name a few: He is not a fresh face, he offers nothing for diversity, and he didn’t have a broad base of party support.

What’s more, Biden would not have been the most progressive Democrat at a time the party was clearly seeking that, as evidenced by Senator Bernie Sanders’ rise. Biden also does not have a massive fund-raising base, and he hasn’t proven himself to be a great candidate (see runs in 1988 and 2008).

So, in the larger sense, Biden may also be exactly the wrong person for Democrats to look to not only as a candidate, but also as an image for the future of the party. In fact, it’s hard to see how Biden represents the next iteration of the party at all.


The Democratic Party is undergoing great disruption as an institution, with new leaders breaking out of the ranks who haven’t been in the limelight because of Obama and Clinton. Reverting to someone like Biden, who has been in Washington since 1972, only further delays where the party will end up going.

James Pindell can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell, or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics: