Politics can be unfair. Consider Joe Biden. Being Vice-President is a thankless job— “not worth a bucket of warm piss,” in Vice-President John Nance Garner’s famous words. The office, constitutionally ill-defined and so humbling that there’s an HBO comedy series about the indignities of the position, offers only a single reward to its occupant: the chance to one day be President.
All of the Democratic Vice-Presidents that Biden grew up watching eventually became Democratic nominees for President: Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, and Al Gore. If Biden decides to forego a run for the Oval Office, he will be the first Democratic Vice-President unable to secure his party’s nomination in sixty-three years. (In 1952, the seventy-four-year-old Alben Barkley, Harry Truman’s veep, was pushed out of contention by party leaders who considered him too old. Biden is seventy-two.)
Biden is reported to be currently considering a run against Hillary Clinton. And yet, while history seems to be in his favor, for Biden to enter the race would be a monumental mistake.
Previous Vice-Presidents joined nominating contests with the widespread support of the Democratic Party’s establishment. But this year, the Party’s fundraising networks, interest groups, and elected officials are backing Hillary Clinton. In fact, her support is unprecedented in the modern era. The single best predictor of who will win a party’s nomination is support from other elected officials. Clinton has more endorsements from governors and members of the House and Senate than any previous nominee at this stage of the process. Joe Biden has garnered endorsements from two elected officials, both of them from his home state of Delaware. If there is even a single elected official outside of Delaware pining for a Biden candidacy, he or she is being very quiet.
Elite party support is enormously important for a sitting Vice-President because there are many disadvantages to running while serving. The Vice-Presidential entourage is large and cumbersome, not suited to the kind of retail politics that the spoiled voters of Iowa and New Hampshire demand. While Clinton is free to stray from Obama’s policies, the Vice-President’s every utterance would be judged against Obama’s official pronouncements. Each time there was a difference of opinion, commentators would wonder why he couldn’t convince the President of his ideas.