Tomasky's first reason for dread is understandable: the possibility that "an old white guy is going to saunter in and step on" Hillary Clinton's long-delayed chance to be the first female president. Obviously, that's a problem. But Tomasky thinks the style of Biden's campaign will inevitably make matters far worse, and that's where I disagree with him:
... if he’s going to do it, he’s not going to be able to do it politely, which brings us to reason number two why this would get ugly. Biden is not going to get anywhere with a campaign that says: “I have better ideas than Hillary Clinton does,” because he probably doesn’t, and she has perfectly fine and laudable ideas, even if a lot of liberals don’t want to admit that yet.Tomasky assumes Biden will figure out that this is the way to beat Clinton, then do what's necessary. I don't believe that, for the simple reason that Biden has never shown that he knows how to win a presidential nominating campaign. He's not going to do whatever it takes to win because, as we saw in 1988 and 2008, he doesn't have an instinct for that; he just runs as himself, so far unsuccessfully.
No. He’s going to have to run a campaign that says, sub rosa: “I’m a stronger and safer nominee because she’s corrupt.” Because that’s the only argument, is it not? He can’t out-populist her, really.... He can maybe say he has more experience, but she’s got plenty of that....
Biden would have no choice but to build a run around the idea that she’s too risky. He or his surrogates will need to press the idea that the party could nominate Clinton and then next fall, Trey Gowdy finds that Holy Grail email that brings the whole thing crashing down. In other words, his candidacy is going to have to be built around what is in essence a Republican Party talking point.
That's not to say he won't try to throw some punches -- but they're not likely to land. The best-known interview of his campaign for the 2008 nomination took place in early 2007. The interviewer was The New York Observer's Jason Horowitz, and Biden went negative. But his criticisms of his opponents weren't particularly damaging:
Addressing Mrs. Clinton’s latest proposal to cap American troops and to threaten Iraqi leaders with cuts in funding, Mr. Biden lowered his voice and leaned in close over the table.He's so in the weeds here. On Iraq, he's debating what an average voter would regard as fine policy points; then he talks about Clinton's polling numbers. This isn't the kind of talk that gets voters' blood boiling.
“From the part of Hillary’s proposal, the part that really baffles me is, ‘We’re going to teach the Iraqis a lesson.’ We’re not going to equip them? O.K. Cap our troops and withdraw support from the Iraqis? That’s a real good idea.” The result of Mrs. Clinton’s position on Iraq, Mr. Biden says, would be “nothing but disaster.”
... he thinks that at such a precarious point in the nation’s history, voters are seeking someone with his level of experience to take the helm.
“Are they going to turn to Hillary Clinton?” Biden asked, lowering his voice to a hush to explain why Mrs. Clinton won’t win the election. “Everyone in the world knows her,” he said. “Her husband has used every single legitimate tool in his behalf to lock people in, shut people down. Legitimate. And she can’t break out of 30 percent for a choice for Democrats? Where do you want to be? Do you want to be in a place where 100 percent of the Democrats know you? They’ve looked at you for the last three years. And four out of 10 is the max you can get?”
In the same interview, there's a passage about Obama that might be the best-remembered thing Biden said during the nomination campaign:
Mr. Biden is equally skeptical -- albeit in a slightly more backhanded way -- about Mr. Obama. “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” he said. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”The part of this that everyone remembers is the first part -- which was meant to be a compliment, and which was instead a significant gaffe. The second part -- the insult of Obama -- was immediately forgotten.
But -- and the “but” was clearly inevitable -- he doubts whether American voters are going to elect “a one-term, a guy who has served for four years in the Senate,” and added: “I don’t recall hearing a word from Barack about a plan or a tactic.” (After the interview with Mr. Biden and shortly before press time, Mr. Obama proposed legislation that would require all American combat brigades to be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of March 2008.)
Still concerned? Watch this clip, from a debate in September 2007. I've cued it up after Judy Woodruff's question, which is about single-payer health care. The response is a classic jazzy Biden riff -- it really seems as if he picked up his debate style from watching the Rat Pack banter in Vegas -- and far from being an attack dog, he actually has Bill Richardson laughing, and hardly seems to be offending Clinton and John Edwards. Really, watch this and try to imagine Biden as the guy who draws blood:
He's a comedian! He likes being a comedian. He wants to be thought of as a guy with reserves of gravitas, but he has no interest in suppressing his jokey side. He's really not going to be capable of making this thing truly ugly.
A Biden race makes sense only if he's going to be the middle-of-the-road alternative to a very wounded Hillary Clinton. He's not going to win the race on his own; he'll win if she's seen by Democratic voters as no longer a viable choice, and if they prefer an Establishment liberal to Bernie Sanders. But no, he's not going to beat her up.