Wait, what? You thought it was going to be Hillary, didn’t you? Well, in all likelihood, it probably will be. However, it appears that Hillary Clinton’s seemingly assured nomination is growing somewhat less certain.
As you may know, Hillary Clinton is currently embroiled in an extraordinarily convoluted email scandal that I will make no attempt to explain here. We don’t know if there was any wrongdoing on Hillary’s part, and I won’t take either side. However, regardless of her guilt, there is an active FBI investigation into the scandal. And if the FBI returns an indictment for Hillary, that would deal a huge blow to her prospects — as well as to the prospects of the Democratic Party — in the general election.
Initially, it was mostly Bernie supporters who raised this issue as a reason for why he would be a better general election candidate, which is not an altogether invalid argument and definitely a debatable point, but it was also a fringe argument — most of the things that come from the Bernie camp tend to be regarded as such, after all. And up to a certain point, the issue was treated as a pure hypothetical, and dismissed by the mainstream as an outlandish possibility.
So, then, what is Joe Biden doing in the news?
The first time I was exposed to the idea of Democrats nominating Joe Biden was at John Boehner’s talk here at Stanford a while back. “Don’t be shocked… if two weeks before the convention, here comes Joe Biden,” he said, suggesting that the Democrats would, in the case of Hillary suddenly becoming a non-viable candidate, bypass runner-up Bernie Sanders and instead nominate a man who never ran for the nomination.
I was blown away by this idea when I first heard it. My immediate reaction was to simply ignore this piece of information as I do most of the nonsense that John Boehner has spewed over the years. But it also made a lot of sense, given how much the Democratic establishment dislikes Bernie Sanders. So, I kept the idea on my radar on the off-chance that Boehner was actually onto something. This was the end of April. By the beginning of May, whispers had already emerged from the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in DC confirming the same thing.
And then, on May 11, Joe Biden claimed in an interview that he would have been the best President.
On top of that, on the very next day, it was reported that Biden wanted progressive champion Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) as his running mate. Then, that same day, it was also reported that the two actually met “several times” last year to discuss this possibility.
This, I’m afraid, is no accident. First of all, people who aren’t running for President don’t just sit at home contemplating who their hypothetical running mate would be. Even if they did, it wouldn’t be something newsworthy. The only explanation for why the hypothetical Biden-Warren run is so confidently and widely reported is that it came from some reliable source; and, as anyone familiar with Washington or just interacting with the press in general knows, many of these leaks or scoops from reliable sources are very much carefully planned. So why was this information about Biden’s totally hypothetical presidential bid given out to reporters?
Well, one very reasonable answer is that the party is trying to groom Biden as a potential emergency nominee if Hillary does get indicted or is otherwise seriously compromised as a candidate. And it is clearly working, since as I just mentioned, there is now a significant number of articles out there debating the merits of a hypothetical Biden candidacy — which supposedly isn’t happening.
Now, of course, even if my speculation is correct, a Biden run would still be predicated upon a significant development on the Clinton side, which is still only a possibility. But, regardless of how the Clinton fiasco ends, it doesn’t make our body of evidence here any less relevant. Regardless of what the outcome might be, we must reckon with the fact that there is some significant consensus within the Democratic Party establishment that it would be acceptable to run Biden as the nominee despite the fact that he wasn’t even running, all the while bypassing an extremely popular candidate who did compete in the primaries and fared quite well in them. And it isn’t just a matter of people wanting Bernie instead of Biden — it’s a matter of principle: The winner of a primary election should be someone who actually ran in said primary election. Anything else would be profoundly undemocratic, and profoundly wrong.
Now, here’s the thing: I like Biden, and so do most Americans, and I’m sure if he had run and won the primaries, he would have made a fine candidate. But he didn’t run, and nominating him despite that would likely destroy much of the goodwill that he currently enjoys. And if you think rallying Democrats behind Hillary Clinton is difficult, wait until you get a load of what it would be like to rally them behind a guy who didn’t even run, and whose nomination would thus be objectively illegitimate (Hint: Look no further than 1968).
If something does develop to render Hillary unelectable, I honestly hope to God that the Democratic Party leadership won’t make the disastrous choice to nominate Biden. It would split the party’s vote, decimate Democratic voter turnout, ensure a Trump victory, and end the decades-long career of Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., arguably one of America’s great contemporary statesmen, with an indelible black mark.
We can only hope that when the election is over and the smoke clears, there will still be a Democratic Party left to defend America from President Trump.
Contact Terence Zhao at terencezhao ‘at’ stanford.edu.