The answer, judging from the image projected by the vice president in an interview with historian Douglas Brinkley in Rolling Stone, appears to be yes.
It’s not far-fetched to think that Biden will run for president in 2016 on Obama’s coattails. This notion surprises many Republicans, who feel Obama is foundering and that Biden, who will be 74 at the beginning of the next presidential term, is too old. But Biden is smart to stay close to Obama, whose public-approval rating hovers just below 50 percent (a number that rises to around 75 percent among registered Democrats). Assuming Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2016, she will sell herself as a successor to her husband, harkening back to the economic heyday of the 1990s. By contrast, if Biden gets into the race, it will be as an Obama Democrat promising to expand on the record of the last two terms.
A handful of observations about a potential Clinton-Biden rivalry:
1.) “Obama Democrat” and “Clinton Democrat” are no longer mutually exclusive. Hillary Clinton may come to personify the melding of the two political brands. The 2012 campaign saw President Obama rely on Clinton’s speechmaking and retail campaigning acumen to a far greater extent than he did in ’08. The former president’s contribution to Obama’s reelection was second in significance only to Obama’s efforts on his own behalf. In his stemwinder at the Democratic National Convention—an address that was emotionally and substantively superior to Obama’s acceptance speech—Bill Clinton entwined his legacy with that of Obama’s. In the event that both Biden and Clinton run in ’16, Hillary would in effect be able to run as a successor to both men.
2.) “Experience.” In 2008, Hillary ran on the experience issue and failed miserably. She lost to a junior senator who had yet to complete his first term; the appeal to her service as first lady was laughed out of town. But let’s imagine, for our purposes, that 2016 won’t be a repeat of the novelty act that ’08 was. On foreign policy, in particular, Hillary lacked relevant credentials. This was the one issue portfolio where then-Sen. Biden could plausibly claim the upper hand. Hillary’s stint as secretary of state erases that gap.
3.) Benghazi. If, two to three years from now, the Benghazi issue still hovers over Hillary (which I doubt, but let’s say it will for argument’s sake), Biden will hardly be free of its taint. He brags to Brinkley of his tight relationship to Obama: “Think about it: Even our critics have never said that when I speak, no one doubts that I speak for the president. I speak for the president because of the relationship. And the only way that works is you’re around all the time. Literally, ever meeting he has, I’m in. You don’t have to wonder what the other guy’s thinking; I don’t have to guess where the president’s going.” Recall, in this context, Obama’s remark in the second presidential debate that Hillary “works for me.” By extension, she worked for Biden. If Benghazi still smells in ’16, the stuff will roll uphill from Foggy Bottom.
4.) Age and Sex. Hillary will have one very big advantage over Biden (and other male presidential aspirants) three years from now: She’s a woman. Having checked first black president off the list, Democrats will be eager to finally send a woman to the White House. And those worried about Hillary’s age—she’ll be 69 on Election Day ’16—will be able to favorably contrast her to Biden, who will be 74.
5.) Every waking moment of his life, Joe Biden exists on the knife’s edge of verbal catastrophe.