The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election

Election Class of 2016: Why America Is Waiting for Joe Biden

America's crazy uncle could throw a wrench in the Democratic Party's scheduled coronation.

by VICE Staff
Aug 19 2015, 5:00pm

Illustration by Drew Lerman

[Editor's Note: In the run-up to the 2016 election, VICE will be profiling the individuals who are important to the presidential race. Some of them are famous, others you probably won't have heard of before—but all of them will have an outsize impact on how the country decides its future.]

Who is he? Joe Biden, 72, vice president of the United States.

Do you know him? Yes. He's America's Crazy Uncle Joe, the slightly senile older gentleman Obama keeps around the West Wing for high-fives and back rubs. Sure, Biden's been one heartbeat away from leading the free world for the past six years—but you know him better as the walking, close-talking Onion parody, famous for doing weird, mildly offensive shit like imitating Indian accents and groping someone else's female relative. And for the most part, he gets away with it because he's Joe "Big Fuckin' Deal" Biden, and he's just having so much damn fun.

Is he running? Good question. Biden's potential candidacy remains one of the biggest wild cards in this year's presidential race. He's run before—in 1988, when he withdrew due to a plagiarism scandal, and again in 2008, when he got the runner-up prize—and people have been speculating for months that he might try again.

The idea that Biden might actually get in the race started to look more plausible this month, following Maureen Dowd's revelation in the New York Timesthat the vice president was giving the idea serious consideration, and that one of the last wishes of Biden's recently deceased son, Beau, had been for his father to run for president again. Beau was also a politician, and according to Dowd, his tragic death from brain cancer robbed Biden of the prospect that he could live vicariously through the presidential aspirations of his son.

Why does it matter? A Biden run in 2016 would throw a wrench into what has otherwise been a pretty cut-and-dry Democratic primary. Clinton, the party's presumptive nominee, is essentially biding her time until the general election; so far, her only challenge has been fighting off Bernie Sanders, a septuagenarian socialist who has seen a groundswell of support from the left. But while Sanders has gained the devotion of progressive voters who don't trust Clinton, he's unlikely to pose a real threat to her coronation.

Biden, however, would give Democrats another well-known Establishment option—a sitting vice president well-liked by his party's voters. Ardent Obama fans, in particular, could see Biden's election as the next best thing to getting a third term. And with Clinton plagued by daily revelations about her shady email server, Crazy Joe might start to seem like an increasingly welcome alternative. Sure, Biden's weird, and might wander off to find some Costco pies, but at least he's not being investigated by the Justice Department.

Who wants him? Along with Al Gore, Biden is being held up by some Democratic donors and Establishment-types as the the most desirable answer to the party's Hillary problems—an emergency alternative who could take over should the email scandals end up mortally wounding Clinton's campaign.

In recent weeks, several independent groups have cropped up to support his campaign, coalescing into a Draft Biden movement that's been trying to drum up grassroots enthusiasm for a possible Biden bid. Despite not yet being a candidate, Biden is currently polling third in the Democratic field, with just over 10 percent support in most polls. According to a recent Gallup poll, though, Democratic voters remain pretty much split down the middle on whether Biden should actually run.

Who opposes him? At this point, Hillary Clinton's campaign and its allies appear to be quietly panicking about the possibility that Biden could make a late entry into the primary. Other Democrats, too, have suggested Biden stay out of the race, hoping to preserve the party's advantage of having a more or less organized front going into 2016.

Making matters more complicated for Biden is the fact that, thanks to Donald Trump and the GOP's 16-man circus, it looks like any coherent Democrat candidate will be the odds-on favorite to win the whole thing. That alone has Democratic donors telling reporters that they hope Biden stays out of the race, just to keep things uncomplicated. And as CNN reported this week, the White House has already thrown its weight behind Clinton, and doesn't seem particularly keen on having to shift that weight around in the event that Uncle Joe decides he wants another shot.

So when's his moment? Now. According to news reports, Biden's advisors have given him until October 1 to decide whether he wants to run. But the decision is likely to come sooner, given the practical demands of entering a presidential race that his opponents have been running for months.

What that decision will be, however, is still an open question. On the one hand, Biden is still in mourning, and it's not clear if he wants to engage in the open combat of a presidential race. After four decades in politics, he's managed to attain a sort of elder statesman status and respect, and that shit tends to get demoed in the humiliating ritual of running for president.

But it's also not clear that Biden can stay away. With the possible exception of Bill Clinton, no politician seems to get as pure a high from the bizarre pageantry of American campaigning as Roarin' Joe. The man feeds off of baby-kissing and butter statues and VFW hall fruit punch and, like any junkie, he might not be able to resist taking one last hit.

Kevin Lincoln contributed to this report.

Illustration by Drew Lerman. Follow him on Twitter.