After three months of speculation, on Wednesday, Joe Biden finally announced that he won’t enter the 2016 presidential race. While Biden’s political future is now mostly settled (though it’s clear he’d still like to be Hillary Clinton’s understudy), there are lingering questions about how he reached his decision, and why he kept sending signals that he wanted in. With Biden officially out of the running, sources close to him are revealing what’s been going on behind the scenes. Here’s what we’ve learned from the various postmortems on the VP’s shadow campaign.
1. Biden didn’t make up his mind until the very last minute.
The vice-president wasn’t sending cryptic messages because he enjoys messing with the press. Before his son Beau’s death in May, Biden planned to announce his plans for 2016 by the end of the summer. When that deadline came and went with no decision, Biden’s aides noted that technically the season doesn’t end until mid-September. According to The Wall Street Journal, around that time Biden went home to Delaware for a weekend with his family and asked his staffers to prepare a memo outlining the state of the race and his chances. By the end of the month, Biden was still no closer to a decision, so aides began looking into what would happen if he skipped the first Democratic debate on October 13.
On Columbus Day weekend, Biden gathered with his family again, but he was still vacillating. Even his staffers had no idea which way he was leaning. According to Yahoo, “One day he’d frame his discussions of policy and initiatives by making it seem he had no intention of entering the presidential race. At other times, he’d begin his conversations by asking staff how they might frame things ‘If I’d run.’” Some aides began considering whether he could enter the race as late as Thanksgiving.
Politico reports that, finally, advisers who wanted him to run said he needed to give an answer before Thursday when Hillary Clinton will testify before the House Select Committee on Benghazi. They felt that if Biden waited, it would look like he was waiting to evaluate Clinton’s performance, and hurt both of them.
2. Congressman Jim Clyburn was a key factor.
Biden greatly admires Clyburn, and his pseudo-campaign got a boost when the congressman from South Carolina (a crucial early primary state for Biden) said a month ago that he was open to seeing Biden in the race. But on Monday, the congressman suddenly said, “I would not advise him to get in,” during a Huffington Post interview. The two men’s staffers began trying to figure out what had changed, and Biden was reportedly deeply discouraged by Clyburn’s change of heart.
3. Appearing at the press conference was Obama’s idea.
Even on Wednesday morning, President Obama didn’t know which way Biden was leaning. With advisers pushing Biden to make an announcement, he said on Tuesday night that he needed to sleep on it. The next morning he went to the Oval Office and told President Obama he’d decided not to run. According to the AP, they talked for about 30 minutes, and Obama told Biden he wanted to be by his side during his address in the Rose Garden. The event was thrown together so hastily that Biden staffers had to dash over to the White House to watch the speech, and several people who had been strategizing with Biden for months learned that he’d made a decision from news reports.
4. Biden and Clinton aren’t as close as they’d like people to think.
The two were friendly while serving together in the Senate and during Clinton’s time as secretary of State, but as you might have guessed from Biden’s thinly veiled attacks, their relationship has cooled considerably. Biden reportedly felt slighted when Clinton emerged as Obama’s successor, and their relationship has been deteriorating for some time. He privately criticized her skills as a candidate, and her poor handling of her email scandal. The New York Times reports that in recent weeks, “Those close to him say the mere mention of her name could make him fume, and he viewed her family’s potent, sometimes punishing political machinery with growing resentment.”
Political analysts predicted that now that Biden’s out of the race, he and Clinton can move past their differences. “I am sure there has been some tension in the last few weeks,” Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen told the paper. “He didn’t want to close the door, and she didn’t want the door to open.” But she added, “Fundamentally, these two agree on so much more than they disagree on.”