WASHINGTON – Finally, it can be reported: Joe Biden is running for president, unless he isn’t. He will announce his decision this weekend, unless he doesn’t.
Furthermore, Biden is approaching important deadlines for declaring his candidacy, unless those deadlines don’t matter. His advisers really want him to run, except those who don’t, and he has been sounding out potential staffers, or perhaps not. He finds the opportunity irresistible, except when he lacks the passion for it.
Mike Allen, my former partner on the White House beat for The Washington Post and now the indefatigable chronicler of Beltway wisdom, had the very latest Biden developments Monday morning for Politico. “Exclusive: Biden eyes weekend decision,” proclaimed the headline. “Several people who have visited the vice president recently said he seems to be leaning toward ‘yes.’”
But 18 words into the report came the first hedge: The decision might not be reached this weekend but “shortly thereafter.” One-hundred-sixteen words in came a thicket of hedges. Some Biden friends say “they hope he’ll ultimately decide to take a pass” on running, and one said the long windup and failure to hire staff indicate Biden isn’t running: “?’If you’re going to run, you run,’ the friend said. ‘Every time he pushes back a decision, that’s the ultimate tell.’”
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Allen concluded: “After describing their hunches, friends and advisers almost universally added that they remain unsure which way he’ll go.”
So, to summarize, we have no idea what Biden is doing. Nobody does, except perhaps the vice president himself, and that seems doubtful. Yet the Biden speculation, a daily fixture for the last 90 days, has become feverish.
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny reported Thursday that Biden wasn’t expected at the CNN-hosted Democratic debate on Oct. 13, which would seem to be a sign that he’s not running. But, Zeleny added, “Biden has extended his window for deciding whether to jump into the 2016 presidential campaign.”
Or had he? CBS’ Julianna Goldman reported Saturday that a decision from Biden “could come as early as within the next seven to 10 days,” and indications were pointing to yes.
This was somewhat contradicted by an NBC report after a Biden speech to the Human Rights Campaign on Saturday night. “Biden shrugged at the possibility of his own presidential run” and “seemed dismissive of his own White House ambitions,” the outlet said.
But that contradiction was mild compared with others. On Sept. 11 at 7:08 a.m., Politico published a story titled “Joe Biden insiders see a campaign taking shape.” Forty-four minutes later came Allen’s daily Playbook: “Friends say that after watching Biden on ‘Colbert’ last night, they think he’s LESS likely to run.”
For what it’s worth – and it isn’t much – I’m inclined to take Biden at his word. The vice president told Stephen Colbert that he couldn’t promise he could put his “whole heart” into a run so soon after his son’s death. A guy who couldn’t do that on Sept. 10 isn’t going to be able to on Oct. 10.
The latest Biden speculation began with an Aug. 1 Maureen Dowd column in the New York Times – followed by a news story that same day quoting Dowd’s column in the fourth paragraph – saying Biden had begun “to actively explore” a run, which his late son had advocated. But three days later, the Times ran another article saying friends of Biden were discouraging a run.
Biden “allies” (or at least those allies who want him to run) leaked word of various meetings the vice president had over the summer with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and others, further raising expectations. But all that came were delays. Biden aides suggested he would reach a decision by the end of the summer. Then they floated Oct. 1, then Oct. 13 (the first debate), then Oct. 24 (a big dinner in Iowa). Some reports noted that deadlines to get on the ballot in some states begin Nov. 6. But Politico reported that Biden’s “inner circle” thinks he can wait until December, or even the spring, to make his decision.
But that does nothing to calm the speculation. The Wall Street Journal reported that Biden’s recent schedule “looks a lot like that of a presidential candidate.” The Times reported that Hillary Clinton’s campaign is “increasingly worried … after months of voicing doubt.” And Politico’s Allen reported Sunday: “BIDEN READY – ‘Biden previews battle against Clinton.’”
But the “preview” was evidently a sneak. The next day, Allen reported that even if Biden decides in the coming days that he’s running, “the announcement could be delayed.”
Until 2017, perhaps.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.