It hasn’t been a very good couple of weeks for Joe Biden, and the polls show it. Though President Obama followed his vice president’s lead and endorsed gay marriage, White House resentment about the incident lingers. There has been a torrent of leaks about the president’s dissatisfaction with his number two, and Republicans have taken to targeting the veep and pointing out his numerous gaffes at every opportunity. Though the only person whose opinion he needs to care about — President Obama — has been publicly silent, all this has taken a toll on Biden’s public standing. So yesterday’s Gallup Poll in which the vice president is shown to have a negative approval rating for the first time since taking office is likely to feed the rumors circulating around Washington about Biden being dumped from the Democratic ticket this summer. It will also tempt Republicans to double down on their attacks on the vice president.
But while none of this comforts Biden, it would also be a mistake for Republicans to put much stock in any of it. Biden may not be much of an asset to Obama, but it’s not likely that he will cost him any more votes than he will win for him this year. The same was true in 2008, although the comparison with his GOP counterpart Sarah Palin helped him play the statesman. Though we spend a good deal of time handicapping the unofficial run for the vice presidency every four years, it’s a rare election in which they have any but the most marginal impact. Rumors notwithstanding, the president understands that dumping the veep would be a sign of panic. While some Republicans will enjoy slugging away at his gaffes, any effort diverted from the main task of taking down the president’s record is a waste of time.
Biden’s negative ratings — 45 percent disapprove of him while 42 percent approve — actually aren’t all that much worse than the ratings he has received in the last three years. Though he was favored by margins of 42-40, 43-41 and 46-41 in 2009, 2010 and 2011 respectively, none of these results are dramatic enough to affect the Democratic ticket. Democrats still favor him by a margin of 73-17 even if independents and Republicans don’t care for Biden. And it should be pointed out that even his recent bad numbers are not all that much worse than those of his boss, who has a 52-46 favorability rating in the most recent poll.
It also bears pointing out that it is more than likely that those floating the rumors about Biden’s fate have ulterior motives. Some Democrats may see promoting the idea of promoting Hillary Clinton as Biden’s replacement as way to get on her bandwagon early should she try again for the presidency in 2016. It is also more than likely that those Republicans who have been harping on the idea of dumping Biden may be merely seeking to make mischief rather than providing any genuine insight as to the thinking of their rivals.
But either way, the focus on Biden is a sideshow, and President Obama’s high opinion of himself is certainly enough to make him think he can win re-election with anybody — even a gaffe-prone crazy uncle gasbag like Joe Biden. Republicans should take a lesson from this and confine their focus to the man at the top of the other ticket.