Why Clinton and Biden Won't Run in 2016

Jill Lawrence

Hillary Rodham Clinton and Joe Biden won’t be running for president in 2016--bet on it. I already have, and I’m going to owe a lot of people dinner if I’m wrong.

Not to spoil anybody’s fun, but all of this speculation will probably lead nowhere. I’m going to explain my reasoning and then try very hard to refrain from writing anything more about this until, well, at least six months from now.

The most obvious factor militating against runs by these Democratic power players is their age. Biden would turn 74 right after Election Day 2016, and Clinton would turn 69 just before it. Both of them may have other things they want to do with their lives before it’s too late. Clinton, for instance, has made no secret of her yen for a grandchild. And she and her husband are reportedly hunting for a vacation home in the Hamptons, suggesting she has a slower pace in mind.

Clinton also has many long-standing interests that have had to compete for her time during her stints as first lady of Arkansas and the nation, as a senator from New York, and as secretary of State. They include children, the foster-care system and, perhaps most important, the economic and political plight of women around the world. Her most famous speech as first lady catalogued abuses against women and hammered home the message: "Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.” As notable as what she said was where she said it -- a United Nations women’s conference in Beijing. It is easy to imagine her setting up her own organization, or a branch of her husband’s Clinton Global Initiative, to focus full-time on issues affecting women.

It’s more difficult to envision a post-politics role for Biden, who has spent his life inside the Beltway as a senator and as vice president. But he has proven such a valuable White House asset on such a range of issues, and such a constructive bipartisan negotiator, that future presidents of either party would likely press him into service to help solve knotty problems at home and abroad.

Which leads to the next reason neither Biden nor Clinton will run. Their reputations will never be better than they are now.

Biden’s two failed presidential runs did nothing to enhance his place in history--in fact, the opposite. Even during the 2012 campaign, it seemed that for every great line (“Bin Laden is dead, General Motors is alive”) there was a gaffe (his crack to a mostly black audience that GOP plans to deregulate Wall Street would “put y’all back in chains”).  Remarks that seem funny and charming now might not play so well on the presidential campaign trail (“Spread your legs, you’re going to be frisked”).

Meanwhile, beyond the gaffes, Biden is compiling a record of substance. He has earned good reviews for his oversight of stimulus spending and his success negotiating bipartisan deals on the fiscal cliff and other issues. He is presiding over the administration’s push for new gun research, laws, and regulations. He could reprise his closer role as Congress and the White House work toward compromises on guns, immigration, and climate change. And he’s practically a folk hero, what with a cameo on NBC’s Parks and Recreation and his very own Onion e-(auto)biography, The President of Vice. Why get out on the campaign trail and tempt fate?

Clinton and her husband in recent years have been designated as “good” Democrats by Republicans, in part as a way for them to draw contrasts with and fuel opposition to President Obama. In truth, however, there is little daylight between Obama and the Clintons when it comes to policy. Furthermore, it’s almost inevitable that impeachment, Whitewater, and all the other conservative grievances against the Clintons will reemerge if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee. Some of that will be on the fringe, but critiques arising from the murderous attacks against Americans at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi will be in the mainstream. And, inevitably, there would be replays of the contentious 2008 primary – Clinton’s mismanagement of her campaign, Obama’s criticisms of Clinton, and the like.

Biden and Clinton are household names in American politics, and each would have an advantage in a multicandidate primary field. Yet in a general election, their stature as battle-tested veterans could make either of them seem like yesterday’s nominee against one of the fresher, younger figures on the Republican bench. Prospects such as Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Bob McDonnell, and even Jeb Bush would claim for the GOP the generational edge that Bill Clinton had in 1992 and that Obama used in 2008 against both Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

Running for president is a draining enterprise, and nobody understands that better than Biden and Clinton. From their decades of experience with national campaigns, as candidates and in supporting roles, they know that the pace is barely manageable at any age. They are also intimately familiar with health risks. Biden twice had aneurysms that could have killed him. Clinton recently had a much publicized cascade of misfortunes – a stomach virus that led to dehydration, a fall, a concussion, and a blood clot near her brain.

Furthermore, only once in the past 60 years has a two-term president been succeeded by a president of the same party. And only one sitting vice president – George H.W. Bush – has been elected president since Martin Van Buren in 1836.

Based on all of the above, I’d be urging against a race if Clinton or Biden were my spouse or parent. If I change my mind about that advice or decide one or both of them likely will run, I promise not to write about it before July.