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He's Running? How Joe Biden is Bending Over Backward to Avoid Hillary's Ethical Messes

Political obsessives spent the holidays arguing about the (very partial) government shutdown (this point about pro-Democratic media double standards is undeniably true) and buzzing about how the Democratic presidential primary is starting to shape up.  Massachusetts leftist Elizabeth Warren announced her exploratory committee on New Years Eve, a formality that merely confirmed a long-expected move.  Warren has been laying the groundwork for a White House run for months, cultivating a formidable ground game among grassroots lefties, delivering "I'm running for president"-style speeches, and attempting -- very badly -- to clear up her heritage fraud problem.  After taking the next logistical step toward seeking the presidency, Warren streamed a somewhat painful live video on Instagram, in which she tried excruciatingly hard to look like a relatable everywoman who's just casually drinking some beer and running for president:


There's a lot of public cooking and drinking happening these days among politicians, it seems.  The marathon is on, and it starts -- where else? -- in Iowa:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren will visit four cities in Iowa this weekend, her presidential exploratory committee said Tuesday, her first trip to the early-caucus state since launching her 2020 exploratory committee on Monday. The Massachusetts Democrat is scheduled to make stops in Council Bluffs, Sioux City, Storm Lake and Des Moines, according to her exploratory committee. Although Monday's committee announcement marked Warren's first concrete step toward a 2020 bid, the senator has been active in Iowa for weeks, speaking with candidates, elected officials, labor leaders and other Democratic stakeholders throughout the state.

How many of her opponents are struggling to resist the temptation to make a joke about Sioux City, given Warren's...struggles?  In any case, Democratic hopefuls are looking at a re-shuffled primary calendar in which the terrain is shifting in such a way that significantly increases the clout of large, diverse states like California and Texas this cycle.  Don't overlook this:

A little over a year from now, millions of Californians will be mailed their ballots on the same day that Iowans head to their famous first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses. They could start mailing them back before New Hampshire holds its first-in-the-nation primary in 2020. Meanwhile, Texans will likely have a chance to vote early, too — even before Nevada and South Carolina, which typically round out the earliest portion of the primary calendar. The explosion of early voting and reshuffling of the primary calendar in 2020 could transform the Democratic presidential nominating contest, potentially diminishing the power of the traditional, tiny and homogeneous early states in favor of much larger and more diverse battlegrounds. That would be a boon to the best-known candidates with war chests sizable enough to compete in big states early. And it would empower black and Hispanic voters in large, multiracial states...Democrats' 2020 primary schedule is not yet finalized and states could still change their plans when their legislatures begin meeting early next year, but strategists working for leading potential presidential contenders are already gaming out plans to run a very different kind of campaign than they would have just two years ago.


Setting aside conservatives' myriad ideological problems with the Democrats, this transformation of primary electoral dynamics is an absolutely fascinating phenomenon to watch from a political science perspective. It would be foolish to draw too many early conclusions about how these changes will ultimately shake out, but it does seem somewhat intuitive that well-known, well-funded candidates with the capacity to build out a national presence early in the process would disproportionately benefit. And few potential 2020 contenders have more advantages on those two elements than former Vice President Joe Biden.  Lots of interesting details in this New York Times piece:

So long as a campaign remains possible, Mr. Biden has appeared mindful of the political backlash against the last Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, for earning millions by speaking to private interests in the run-up to 2016, and for her family foundation’s acceptance of huge sums from corporate and foreign donors. He has imposed telling restrictions on his moneymaking and fund-raising activities: Mr. Biden does not speak for pay to corporate, advocacy or foreign groups and does not consult or sit on boards, said Bill Russo, his spokesman. His nonprofits do not accept contributions from abroad, and the Biden Cancer Initiative does not take money from drug companies, he said.


These are smart moves, frankly. Biden is still raking in big bucks from book sales and speaking fees, but he's doing so while avoiding the ethical landmines that contributed to blowing up Hillary Clinton's ambitions in 2016. Sources close to Biden say he's still mulling his 2020 decision, but he's effectively built a "campaign-in-waiting," the Times reports, ready to activate if and when he chooses to throw his hat into the ring. But is he running? Unclear, but riddle me this: Does this sound like someone who is preparing to mount a White House campaign?

When officials at the University of Utah invited Joseph R. Biden Jr. to speak there in December, Mr. Biden’s representatives listed a number of requirements for the appearance. His booking firm, Creative Artists Agency, said the school would need to fly Mr. Biden and his aides to Salt Lake City by private plane. It would have to buy 1,000 copies of his recent memoir for distribution to the audience. There would be no insertion of the word “former” before “vice president” in social media promotions. And the speaking fee would be $100,000 — “a reduced rate,” it was explained, for colleges and universities. But three days before the event, Mr. Biden’s aides learned that the public university would be using state funds to pay his fee. They already had a policy against taking tuition dollars, and decided that accepting taxpayer dollars for such a windfall might appear just as politically distasteful. Mr. Biden made the trip anyway but declined to take a check.

Insisting on present-tense honorifics and fretting about the optics of certain speaking fees? Are those the actions and concerns of a man who's gliding toward a comfortable retirement after decades in politics?  I think not.  Biden's backers argue that he's uniquely positioned to cut into President Trump's support among blue collar and working class voters, who pushed Trump over the top in crucial states. That may well be true. He was also a hot commodity among Democratic candidates running in red and purple districts during the 2018 cycle.  On the other hand, Biden is a white male in a party whose base positively fetishizes identity politics, so those two immutable characteristics are key strikes against him in the minds of diversity obsessives. He's also already 76 years old, at this moment, years before he'd hypothetically assume office.  The age factor will undoubtedly be a part of the discussion surrounding his possible candidacy (for reference, Trump is 72).  It's also possible that Biden simply isn't a very good presidential candidate, having flamed out in his previous attempts -- the first of which unearthed an embarrassing plagiarism scandal.  But he wasn't a former Vice President in either of those races, so his position would be vasty different at the outset this time.  

Parting thought: If Biden goes for it, would his former running mate Barack Obama endorse him?  I'd guess Obama wants to stay out of the primary altogether, or for as long as possible.  He's enjoying the role of party elder statesman and kingmaker, and joining Team Biden early might reduce his ability to fulfill that role.


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