Joe Biden is having issues as a presidential candidate — and he hasn’t even declared yet.
Polls aren’t the problem. As the prospective candidate with the highest name recognition of all of his potential competitors (Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., may qualify as an exception), the six-term senator and two-term vice president remains the top dog in the early 2020 Democratic presidential primary surveys. The latest Quinnipiac University poll released last Thursday registers Biden at 29 percent, with the second-place Sanders at 19 percent. As a long-time Democrat, Biden retains the kinds of connections and relationships with the Democratic Party establishment that would be a boon to his campaign when and if he decides to run. If you’re a former or current state or county party chairman, chances are you’ve rubbed elbows with Uncle Joe at some point during your tenure.
Biden, however, has had a difficult week.
There’s the Anita Hill saga that never seems to end and which Biden continues to express remorse for not handling properly. There’s Biden’s son, Hunter, who had financial dealings with a Ukrainian oligarch a-la Paul Manafort (to be clear, nobody is accusing Hunter Biden of defrauding the U.S. government), which is not exactly great optics for a party that continues to bludgeon President Trump’s associates for acting as hired-guns for shady overseas characters. There was the strange trial balloon of a Biden-Stacey Abrams ticket, which was deflated almost as soon as it left the ground.
And now, after 2014 Nevada lieutenant governor nominee Lucy Flores wrote about Biden’s alleged creepy behavior during a rally, the former veep is trapped in the web of the #MeToo movement. While Flores acknowledges that she didn’t consider Biden’s weird kiss to the back of the head a case of sexual harassment, she nonetheless described it as an uncomfortable experience. “My brain couldn’t process what was happening,” Flores recalled. “I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused.”
Biden, it should be said, has denied he acted inappropriately or that the displays of affection were motivated by nefarious intent. “I may not recall these moments the same way, and I may be surprised at what I hear,” Biden wrote. “But we have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention. And I will.”
The swirling cloud of bad news stories at the same time Biden has been actively weighing a run for months (likely years) and is coming close to a final decision is more than bad timing. The negative coverage could serve as a wake-up to middle-class Joe: mounting a third presidential campaign isn’t worth the aggravation at his age.
Biden has long viewed himself as presidential material, but he seems conflicted about running for his dream job. When Biden deliberated with his family in 2015 about whether to challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, the discussions sounded like an intensive therapy session from the outside. The Biden family was still deep in mourning over the death of Beau to brain cancer, and the career politician was highly worried about the degree to which his family had the strength and stamina for a long knife-fight where every foible would be used on the national stage as a political weapon. Biden chose the health of his loved ones over his love for the big stage, a choice many Democrats either criticized or applauded depending on whether you were a Hillary or Bernie fan.
Yet again, Biden has taken his time about whether a run is appropriate or worthwhile. He is clear that he doesn’t want to participate in a campaign if he doesn’t have a decent possibility of winning. Biden’s aides have also suggested to reporters that he doesn’t believe any of the other candidates (declared or undeclared) are strong enough to beat Trump. Sometimes, he is on the cusp of launching a campaign; at other times, he wavers like a typical politician.
We don’t know if any of these stories will stick to Biden, particularly Flores’ account. Worse things have been said about Trump, and yet the president has been able to shake them off. Biden, though, is working to court an altogether different constituency — a newly empowered and aggressive liberal base already anathema to the prospects of Biden representing them in the most important election of their lifetimes.
As with most things about Joe Biden, we are just going to have wait a little longer.
Daniel DePetris (@DanDePetris) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. His opinions are his own.