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Why Obama Isn’t Dumping Biden

The idea that President Obama is seriously considering dumping Joe Biden from the Democratic ticket this year is a seductive one. To assume that this is a real possibility, as William Kristol argues in the Weekly Standard, you must believe the president is not only sick and tired of Biden’s bloviating, but that he believes his re-election effort is in real peril. While I don’t doubt the former proposition for a moment, I have yet to see proof President Obama’s messianic self-image has been so punctured by reality that he is willing to do the unthinkable and not only discard a sitting vice president but elevate Hillary Clinton as his figurative and actual successor.

Unlike Kristol and my esteemed colleague Pete Wehner, who also thinks Biden is on his way out, I think the potential costs to the president outweigh the benefits. Even more to the point, the essential prerequisite of this scenario — a panic-stricken White House that sees the president as doomed to defeat unless the Democrats throw the sort of Hail Mary pass that caused John McCain to make a fateful veep pick — doesn’t exist. The president is behaving as if he is convinced that a campaign to destroy Mitt Romney’s character will succeed. Conceding that all is lost without Clinton to save him goes against everything we know about Obama’s belief in himself and his abilities. He may also understand that Biden wouldn’t go quietly, and the perception of weakness the veep’s political execution would engender would merely discourage his supporters rather than energize them.

Kristol’s idea of David Petraeus sliding from the CIA over to State while Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential candidacy turns a close-run affair into a cakewalk makes sense for the Democrats. Yet though it is the sort of bold stroke that would captivate the media and dominate the news for days if not weeks, it also reeks of panic. Barack Obama is too savvy a politician to want to show the public he not only lacks confidence but needs Clinton to bail him out.

As for Biden’s merits as vice president or his value to his party, I readily concede the arguments Bill and Pete put forward on that score are conclusive. The vice president’s contributions to the administration are risible and pale when compared to those of his recent predecessors, who were given far more responsibility. The fact that he has little political appeal and doesn’t help Obama govern should argue for his dismissal. But doing so will be extremely messy at a time when that is the last thing the president should want.

Biden is not the sort of politician to go quietly into the night just because the president can’t stand him. If there is anything the president should have learned about the vice president in the last four years, it is that his ego is as healthy as his own. Politics is his life, and he will fight for his position — and the fantasy he harbors of running for the presidency in 2016 — with all he’s got. The notion that he will meekly accept a demotion to being a third-tier campaign surrogate for Obama’s re-election strikes me as highly unlikely.

This isn’t about loyalty. I agree with Pete the president’s Chicago-style approach to politics renders him immune to such fine sentiments. Rather, Obama’s own self-regard is such that he probably believes he is great enough to succeed even while lugging around the loquacious Biden on his back. That’s good news for the vice president as well as for Republicans who would have good reason to fear the power of an Obama-Clinton ticket. Although many Democrats would happily make the exchange, I think the odds of this happening are slim and none.



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