Joe Biden, in the (still unlikely) event he runs for president, probably won’t beat Hillary Clinton. He’s been a lackluster presidential candidate in the past, and there’s no clear path for him to win the Democratic nomination this time.
He should do it anyway.
The rationale – floated to me by a Biden lieutenant – is that the vice president could serve as a stalking horse. His entry would shake up the race and thereby lower the barriers for other, potentially better-positioned, candidates to join the fray.
This could turn the Democratic contest into a free-wheeling affair, and for the party there would be only upside: Either the more fragmented Democratic field would produce a better candidate than Clinton, or, more likely, it would sharpen Clinton on her way to the nomination.
A Biden-scrambled race for the nomination could make a run more attractive to a dozen or more Democrats, most of whom have said they’re not running and some of whom have already endorsed Clinton. All are unlikely. But a Biden run should, at minimum, alter their calculations.
Previous nominees Al Gore or John Kerry could jump in, validating Mo Udall’s theory that presidential ambition can only be cured by embalming fluid. Mike Bloomberg could rejoin the party and put his billions to work in a shortened primary season.
Populists such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts or, failing that, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio or Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York could reconsider.
Young candidates such as Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro or Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey could bring racial and ethnic diversity to the race, as could former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Those excited about Clinton’s history-making potential could get behind Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota or Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
Among governors, there’s John Hickenlooper of Colorado and New York’s Andrew Cuomo (who has a famous name if not much of a record), a pair of former Virginia governors, Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, and outspoken former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
It’s late in the cycle for new entrants, but not too late: A CBS News analysis finds that of the nearly 770 top Obama fundraisers from 2012, as few as 51 have committed to bundling big money for Clinton. Because Clinton has largely plugged in Obama’s campaign operation, plenty of Democratic operatives are available.
And new candidates would be arriving just in time for the debate season, beginning Oct. 13 in Nevada and followed by others in November, December and January, with two more in either February or March.
Not least, there’s a clamor for Clinton alternatives from the political press corps, which has a long history of antagonism toward her. There’s also eagerness for alternatives among the Democratic faithful, demonstrated by the large crowds and enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders, even though he’s a professorial socialist who is about to turn 74.
Democrats are reasonably content with Clinton: In the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, 72 percent of Democratic-leaning voters said they were satisfied with their choice of candidates, and 24 percent very satisfied. But they could be more so: At this time in 2007, 83 percent of Democratic-leaning voters were satisfied, and 33 percent very satisfied.
Satisfaction could diminish as Clinton’s email-server troubles continue. She’s scheduled to testify Oct. 22 before the House’s Benghazi committee, which has generated much of the email-server controversy. The State Department is expected to continue dribbling out Clinton’s old emails the rest of this year as they are cleared for public consumption. And many of her emails are facing reviews to see whether they contained classified information.
Clinton originally said that she did not use her private email account to exchange classified information, but she has since retreated to saying that none of her emails had been marked as classified.
Even if she did nothing illegal, the potential for more damage to Clinton remains high. But there is one thing that can shift attention from the email saga, inject energy into the Democratic side of the presidential race and strengthen Clinton or the eventual nominee: A stalking horse, of course.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.