He’s just one loose-lipped, goofy-grinned moment away from making a “pull my finger” joke at the vice presidential debate.
And don’t think the White House doesn’t know this. I wouldn’t imagine they’re upset at Vice President Joe Biden for forcing Obama’s hand on gay marriage, as that looked too well planned to be an accident and history will likely reveal that the vice president was dutifully testing the public-sentiment waters.
But every time I see a private meeting on the White House press schedule between President Obama and Biden, I imagine what sort of dressing down the veep is getting for his latest gaffe, his latest YouTube and Twitter sensation, his latest cloaked reference to the president’s manhood.
And yet Vice President Joe Biden is working the campaign trail multiple days a week, pushing a series of well-placed policy speeches to constituencies in swing states, acting like he’s not going anywhere and is considered a valuable part of the re-election effort.
In one corner, Biden is seen as a jocular Everyman who can comfortably hang out in Small-Town America as Obama hits the luxe fundraisers in New York and L.A. His speeches, even when you factor in the daily foot-in-mouth, are more down-to-earth and off-the-cuff than President Teleprompter’s, lending accessibility to an otherwise stuffy ticket. He’ll open his wallet in the Dairy Queen to woo voters and he’ll praise Obama like he just walked across the Potomac to a choir of angels. His quips and off-color jokes provide for handy distractions, when needed, from policies and headlines the campaign would rather you ignore.
In the other corner, Biden is a living, breathing, jabbering reminder of what won’t be remembered as one of Obama’s best judgment calls. You don’t want a vice president to outshine the commander in chief’s glory, but you don’t want people fervently praying that he won’t have to step into the presidential role. And you don’t want the world’s most wanted terrorist talking about what an awesome idea it would be to get your veep promoted because he wouldn’t know his left foot from his right.
In one way, you can assume that the country and the campaign are used to it by now, like the drunk uncle whose behavior at my childhood best friend’s quinceañera was so predictable it even ceased to be embarrassing, as her family just brushed off his antics and accentuated the positives of the day.
But in a race that’s going to be a close one, as Biden endlessly reminds crowds while trying to stoke that 2008 feeling, you also want the strongest possible ticket. You want a No. 2 who’s ready for the White House — and you want the voters to feel just as confident with this fact — should anything happen to the president. You want a person who can ably take on the currently unknown challenger (back to those VP debate fears). You want to show a sense of loyalty, especially to a guy you’ve been pushing out to campaign for you, but you don’t want voters to think that you’re such a pushover that you’ll keep an incapable No. 2 just because you don’t want to rock the boat.
Overall, I wouldn’t put the chances of Obama replacing Biden at this stage very high, perhaps 25 percent on a good day.
If he emerged on the DNC stage with Hillary Clinton, though, it would produce web-busting headlines and rally both the Democratic base and the moderates who preferred Hillary in 2008. And Mitt Romney needs moderates.
But to avoid embarrassment and overshadowing a campaign with drama, Obama would have to ask Biden behind the scenes to step down for a reason other than his big mouth. There would have to be some illness or personal reason blamed, something for which Biden would have to swallow his pride. And I don’t see Biden agreeing, unless perhaps a crack hit squad was holding Scranton hostage, only to be spared upon Biden’s reluctant approval.
There’s the Dave option, where you secretly replace Biden with a lookalike temp-agency owner who fools the masses into thinking that the VP is normal. But the minute the not-Biden refuses to answer a knock-knock joke with a double-header about Irish and lubrication and a priest and rabbi, then his cover would be shot.
There’s also the matter of whether Hillary would want to jump on a ticket with Obama. Indicators are that she can’t wait to leave the administration, evidenced not only by rumblings that she’s had longtime policy partings with Obama in the State Department but by her Colombia dance party. Ego is not a foreign concept to the Clintons (can you ever have seen Bill being someone’s veep?), and if Hillary knows that she can helm a ticket and hears the excited Democratic “Hillary 2016” chatter, she’d more than likely want to bide her time for the spotlight moment.
Every campaign has an Achilles’ heel, which is also in this case a Catch-22. To replace Biden at this stage would be an admittance of first-term failure by Obama and even a look of desperation considering this point in the election cycle. To replace Biden with Hillary would offer a jolt to a re-election effort that the president may find simply irresistible.
But a switcheroo would also require willing players, and this part of the equation could turn a strategic campaign move into a big public relations mess. The White House may be willing to just take the risk that Biden, who is well-received in his small-town Dairy Queen stops, can go out on the trail, make a few dumb comments, be a laughingstock, but not a deal-killer.
If they do go for a switcheroo and Hillary appears on the ticket, the Romney camp is in for heartburn.
In the meantime, Biden appearances will continue to be the most interesting transcripts to come out of the White House, breaking the monotony of Obama’s student-loan blather,Valerie Jarrett’s war on women, and Jay Carney’s briefings that make even conservatives miss Robert Gibbs.