Is third time the charm for Joe Biden’s presidential candidacy?
You can make a pretty strong argument that anyone who so desperately wants to be president of the United States that he would run three times for that office probably does not need that kind of power.
Humility alone should give anyone pause about running for president.
But Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. is not your average American.
And all signs point to the 76-year-old making his third try for the presidency, with an announcement in the next couple of weeks.
Mr. Biden need not hurry. National polls put him in first place, on name recognition alone.
His front-runner status may be temporary, but for now major Democratic figures are waiting for him to decide.
The Democratic nomination contest already boasts 14 candidates, with more soon to enter, and therefore it will be highly unpredictable.
Candidates are facing litmus tests on issues that are extreme positions: Reparations, Medicare-for-All, the Green New Deal and impeachment.
Will the former vice president have the stature to rein in the excesses of the progressive movement? Is he even a progressive?
The beating heart of the Democratic Party, its rabid grass-roots, does not appear enthusiastic about Mr. Biden’s candidacy. Instead, he is appealing to elected officials and donors.
If the Democratic race is about purity, Mr. Biden’s candidacy will end poorly as the first two did.
If the Democratic race is about electability, he may well retain his front-runner status all the way to the end.
Mr. Biden has several strengths. He can best lay claim to the Obama legacy, which many Democratic voters will value. He is clearly prepared to do the job. He passes the commander-in-chief credibility test. He has a nationwide network of relationships built over decades. And he is likely the strongest Democratic candidate to challenge President Trump, threatening his Midwest path to 270 electoral votes.
He has many weaknesses, though. He’s a septuagenarian white male in a “woke” party that wishes to banish white males. He’s not nearly progressive enough for the Democratic base. He will have to answer for his support for the Clinton-era crime bill and his management of the Justice Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, and especially his treatment of Anita Hill. “Uncle Joe” may have a common touch and a blue-collar mindset, but he is notoriously gaffe-prone. It is unclear if he will have the stamina to run for president. Indeed, well-connected Democrats chattered about how his relatively mild midterm campaign schedule wore him out.
As of now, it appears five or six Democratic candidates have the strength to be the nominee. But it is still very early.
Candidates who have real pathways to strong performances in Iowa and New Hampshire will outlast the rest of the field. While the Democrats’ proportional allocation of delegates could mean the nomination will not be decided until very late, the field will winnow early in 2020. At that point, it will come down to who can coalesce the Democratic Party’s support behind his or her candidacy.
This is where Mr. Biden can succeed. He is highly likely to be acceptable across the spectrum of the Democratic Party, particularly if Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders is a real threat for the nomination, as it appears that he may be.
Mr. Biden wants to be president. It is unclear he wants to run for president.
The last two years have given him more free time to spend with his family and earn millions giving paid speeches.
The minute he announces, he will be under relentless attack from the left. Will the grass-roots come around? Can he build a winning campaign in Iowa?
Mr. Biden’s candidacy looks strong now, but it will weaken once he enters.
If he survives the Democratic primary, he has at least a 50 percent chance of winning the presidency.
A Trump-Biden general election would be fought throughout the Midwest, in states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Ohio. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
If I were a betting man, I would argue that Mr. Sanders has a better chance to be the nominee than Mr. Biden. And Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California may well be the wisest bet in the field.
Mr. Biden has been around for a very long time. He has a long record of quotes and votes that can and will be used against him in the primary and the general election.
Can he finally run a winning presidential campaign?
We will find out soon enough.
Matt Mackowiak is president of Austin, Texas, and Washington-based Potomac Strategy Group. He’s a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators.