Amid rampant speculation about Joe Biden's presidential intentions and the possible timing of an unconfirmed announcement -- perhaps before a key event in Iowa this weekend -- the would-be candidate is dropping some rhetorical breadcrumbs. When this quote surfaced on Twitter yesterday, politicos perked up:
Biden, as an aside during this conference: "I don't consider Republicans an enemy, they're a friend." Just a casual rip on Hillary, then?— My name isn't spooky (@Kyle_Feldscher) October 19, 2015
Was Biden taking a calculated jab at Hillary Clinton, who listed Republicans as among her "enemies," alongside Iran and others, during last week's Democratic debate? (For what it's worth, Hillary has since said she was being "a little tongue-in-cheek"). Or was this just a stray musing from Uncle Joe, a career politician and creature of Washington who occasionally gets nostalgic for the good ole days of backslapping bipartisanship? Today's verdict -- calculated, not stray:
Biden just now: “I don’t think my chief enemy is the Republican Party. This is a matter of making things work.” #shotsfired— James Hohmann (@jameshohmann) October 20, 2015
This appears to be a specific strategy, not just the sort of pre-packaged political feel-goodery employed by the liberal victor of last night's Canadian elections, who went on to promise, er, hope and change. If and when Biden gets in, he'll position himself in the Democratic primary as the true inheritor of the Obama agenda (the president remains highly popular among Democrats), as the -- ahem -- adult in the room, and as a far less polarizing figure than the hyper-polarizing Hillary Clinton. Pay no heed to Biden's long, sordid history of rhetorical excess; he's tarred Republicans as "terrorists," neo-enslavers, and homophobes who "aim bullets" at the American people, among other slurs. The reality is that he often gets away with such things because people shrug them off as 'Joe being Joe,' rather than malicious or mean-spirited attacks. Hillary has a much narrower margin for error, evidenced by her weak favorability and trustworthiness numbers among the broader electorate. As Dick Durbin said on MSNBC just yesterday, Hillary has a "long history of controversy" that "turns some people off." That's the argument for Biden in a nutshell, with an Allahpundit-furnished asterisk:
The fact that [Sanders] passed [on hitting Hillary on ethics] suggests that he’s trying to move Hillary to the left, not win the race himself — which means the “good government crusader” role is now Biden’s for the taking. It also means that the primary could end up being extraordinarily nasty. More so than any policy differences between them, the crux of Biden’s message will necessarily be that we can’t trust Hillary with power, to which she’ll respond by trotting out Biden’s old plagiarism scandals, his many dubious verbal gaffes, etc. Somehow we’re going to end up with a race between two people with something like 70 years of Washington experience between them arguing over which of them is the true voice of populist discontent with Washington sleaze.
I spoke with a senior Democratic strategist with deep ties to Bidenworld today who admonished against taking confident predictions from unnamed sources (such as himself) at face value. "Very few people actually know what's really taking place," he said. "Lots of these so-called sources you see quoted don't know what they're talking about. Only about six people really know what [Biden's] intentions are, and those people are playing their cards very close to the vest." Having cautioned against blindly believing prognostications, the source offered a few of his own: "I think it's fair to say that a decision is likely going to come this week and that we'll start hearing about that decision today or tomorrow. Something is going to break this week. But anyone who says they have special knowledge doesn't know what they're talking about," he reiterated. As for the congealing conventional wisdom that Biden must enter the race before Iowa Democrats' Jefferson-Jackson dinner this weekend, the source explained that the real political calculus is more complicated. "I think that's an artificial deadline that some folks have pushed on the Vice President, and that [the event] is not necessarily a deadline that he or anyone else involved is looking at. The only real deadlines are the ones that deal with ballot access," he said. "The Iowa JJ is primarily an organizing opportunity for existing campaigns. Joe can't just make a decision to run for president, then be expected to walk into a room by his lonesome and give a big speech. That may or may not be the best strategy for him. The other side of that coin is that the Iowa JJ holds a very significant mythos around it because of the way it propelled Obama in '08. It served as the turning point from which Hillary Clinton never came back. So there's an emotional significance, but it's not a make-or-break moment in terms of organizing."
The Biden ally went on to chide the commentariat for declaring Hillary Clinton the winner of last week's Democratic debate, noting that post-debate polling has detected very little movement for any of the candidates on stage. "The fundamentals of the race did not change at all," he asserted, going on to hint that Biden's "enemies" line is part and parcel with the Biden brand: "The fundamental difference between Biden and Hillary is that Biden understands that if he were to be president, he'd be president of all Americans. He does not view Republicans as the enemy. [Hillary's campaign] can characterize what she said however they'd like; the fact is that she said it in the heat of the moment. It was at the top of her mind." The source also pushed back on the political analysis dispensed by longtime Clintonite Lanny Davis to a train car of Amtrak passengers earlier this month. Davis stated that Biden's third-place polling position as a popular, undeclared candidate basking in the glow of heavily-positive 'will he, or won't he?' press coverage indicates that he won't gain traction has a declared candidate. My source disagreed: "Lanny can say whatever he wants. The fact is that nearly one-in-five Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats are willing to support this hypothetical candidate. Statistically, that means there are more folks out there who'd be willing to support the Vice President as an actual candidate. Lanny is conflating some things that don't pan out in terms of how voters really think and work," he said, adding that "high-information" primary voters will give Biden a more serious look if (or once) he officially enters the race. Finally, asked about the perception that Hillary Clinton's rivals pulled punches and failed to raise or exploit her weaknesses at CNN's Las Vegas forum, the source simply replied, "If Joe's going to run, he'll run to win."