Joe Biden braces himself to step into Democrat race for White House

As Hillary Clinton’s sheen is scuffed, the vice-president must make up his mind

Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton:  Biden is talking to friends, family and donors about jumping in. The 72-year-old vice-president has been having meetings to explore the idea of taking on Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire. Photograph: Luke Sharret/The New York Times

Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton: Biden is talking to friends, family and donors about jumping in. The 72-year-old vice-president has been having meetings to explore the idea of taking on Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire. Photograph: Luke Sharret/The New York Times

 

A pattern of cutting corners, a patina of entitlement and inevitability, has led to this. Destroying digital messages and thwarting official investigations while acting all innocent about wiping out sensitive material. Avoiding reporters after giving disingenuous explanations at uncomfortable news conferences. Claiming egregious transgressions are a private matter while sending out high-power lawyers and spin doctors to deflect and minimise.

Two controlling superstars with mutable hair and militant fans, married to two magnetic superstars who can make a gazillion an hour for flashing their faces and who have been known to stir up trouble. A pair of team captains craving a championship doing something surreptitious they never needed to do to win. It turns out Tom Brady and Hillary Clinton have more in common than you would think. Brady – the New England Patriots quarterback – had his assistant terminate his Samsung phone the day before he talked to an investigator about Deflategate. Hillary set up a home-brew private server, overruling the concerns of her husband’s aides, and erased 30,000 emails before the government had a chance to review them.

Brady and Hillary, wanting to win at all costs and believing the rules don’t apply to them, are willing to take the hit of people not believing them, calculating that there is no absolute proof. They both have a history of subterfuge – Brady and the Patriots with Spygate, Hillary with all her disappearing and appearing records. Robert Kraft, the owner of the Patriots, is out there rabidly defending Brady. The crafty Hillary has her own rabid defender in David Brock. Kraft and Brock both have a financial interest, of course, in bleaching the images of their quarterbacks.

Hillary and Brady have billion-dollar operations, and their sketchy value systems force people around them into seamy Faustian bargains.

These may be mere speed bumps for these top players. But in the case of Hillary, problems of style and substance are starting to scuff her sheen of inevitability. There are tensions in her campaign that echo the failed 2008 campaign. Her rare interviews seem robotic and infused with the queenly attitude that put off people last time, before she melted in New Hampshire. Can Hillary convey authenticity only when she thinks she’s losing?

Once more, she has figuratively and literally roped off the press, sloughing off her promise at a journalistic dinner four months ago for a fresh start. Her strategists worry about surveys showing voters do not trust her. But her private server is a metaphor for her own lack of trust and a guarded, suspicious mindset.

Unsavoury saga

Wall Street JournalUBSBill Clinton

Hillary is lucky she faces a crowded, absurdist Republican field cowering in the shadow of the megalomaniacal showman Donald Trump. But two recent Quinnipiac University polls show her unfavourability rising in swing states. She trails Jeb Bush by a point, after leading him by 10 in May, and Joe Biden leads Jeb by a point. Many Democrats fret she seems more impatient than hungry, more cautious than charismatic. They are concerned that, aside from the very liberal Bernie Sanders, who could be approaching his ceiling in the early states, there is no backup if something blows up.

Potent friends of America’s lord of latte, Howard Schultz, have been pressing him to join the Democratic primary, thinking the time is right for someone who’s not a political lifer. For the passionate 62 year old – watching the circus from Seattle – it may be a tempting proposition.

After coming up from the housing projects in Brooklyn, Schultz reimagined Starbucks and then revived it. He has strong opinions about what he calls the fraying American dream. While he was promoting his book on veterans last year, he honed a message about making government work again and finding “authentic, truthful leadership”.

Biden in wings

IowaNew Hampshire

As a little boy, Beau helped get his father through the losing his first wife and 13-month-old daughter in the car crash that injured Beau and his brother, Hunter. When Beau realised he was not going to make it, he asked his father to sit down and talk. “Of course, honey,” the vice-president replied. At the table, Beau told his dad he was worried about him. My kid’s dying, an anguished Joe Biden thought to himself, and he’s making sure I’m okay.

“Dad, I know you don’t give a damn about money,” Beau told him, dismissing the idea his father would take a cushy job after the vice-presidency to cash in. Beau was losing his nouns and the right side of his face was partially paralysed. But he had a mission: he tried to make his father promise to run, arguing the White House should not revert to Clintons and the country would be better off with Biden values.

Hunter also pushed his father, telling him, “Dad, it’s who you are.” It could be awkward for president Barack Obama, who detoured from the usual route – supporting your vice-president – and basically passed the torch to Hillary. Some in Obama’s circle do not understand why he laid out the red carpet for his former rivals. “He has no idea how much the Clintons dislike him,” said one former top White House official.

But the president has been so tender and supportive to his vice-president ever since learning Beau was sick, it’s hard to say how he will react. Since the funeral, Obama has often kept a hand on Biden’s back. When Beau was dying, the family got rubber bracelets in blue – his favourite colour – that said “WWBD” (What Would Beau Do), honouring the fact Beau was a stickler for doing the right thing. Joe Biden knows what Beau wants. Now he just has to decide if it’s who he is.

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