When George W Bush selected Dick Cheney as his running mate, it was a new step the evolution of the vice presidency. Prior to World War II, the running mate was generally included for regional or political balance. It was the high point of someone’s career. From 1953 to 2000, the vice-president was always seen as someone with presidential aspirations. Not so with Cheney. If he had wanted to run for president, it would have been in 1996, but he decided at that time to give it a pass.
From Nixon to Mondale (with the possible exception of Nelson Rockefeller), vice presidents were in the presidential waiting room. They waited for their turn. George H W Bush took things in a new direction. He created two new models, and Al Gore tried to imitate them both. In Reagan’s first term, Bush was a super-chief of staff. Reagan’s actual chief of staff, James Baker, was Bush’s closest friend. At levels lower than the cabinet, Bush’s influence ran even further. Bush, the former diplomat, had extensive influence in appointing ambassadors. In Reagan’s second term, the president and his Californian advisers knew their way round Washington, and Bush’s ambitions were focused elsewhere. He was a super-party chairman, raising funds, campaigning, laying down favors for his own run at the presidency. While Gore’s involvement was probably not quite as great as Bush’s, it formed part of the same pattern.
But when the younger Bush moved into the White House things changed again. Cheney had even greater influence and trust from his boss precisely because he wasn’t running for president. This Bush was not, himself, a Washington pol. He had been a governor. His veep had been chief of staff to Gerald Ford, spent eight years in Congress, and then four years as Secretary of Defense. He managed the administration’s relationship with Congress, and was the leading advocate for a neo-conservative foreign policy.
Joe Biden seemed to be a vice-president in the same mold. Like Cheney, he is older than the president, but by a much bigger margin. He had 36 years as a senator, compared to just four for Barack Obama. He also manages relations with Congress. He has been a leading voice on foreign affairs and the economy. He delivered the stimulus and the healthcare bills. But he does not see the vice presidency as his swansong. Joe Biden is running for president.
There has been no announcement, and probably won’t be for another two years. Things could change. Biden turned 70 last year, so there could be a health scare. Hillary Clinton’s decision (which remains unclear) could change things. Or poor polling could scare him off. But, right now, Biden is doing everything that a candidate for president does. Being put in charge of gun-control policy is a serious blow to his plans. Democratic activists will want him to deliver policies that neither Congress nor the Supreme Court is likely to tolerate. But, make no mistake, Biden is running.
Many partisan activists love him for his bonhomie and his willingness to sock it to Republicans, but he will prove (again, he ran in 1988 and 2008) to be an undisciplined candidate. He speaks without giving appropriate consideration to the consequences. His staff won’t let him write his own tweets. He is running, but he will lose.
Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com