Joe Biden (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

The Democratic ticket that would have been a slam dunk: Joe Biden wanted Elizabeth Warren as his VP

Biden's popularity is as high as it's ever been — a ticket with Warren would have routed Trump


Sean Illing
May 12, 2016 6:14PM (UTC)

“I feel confident that Hillary will be the nominee, and I feel confident she'll be the next president,” said Vice President Joe Biden in a recent interview with ABC News. He's right, of course. Hillary Clinton will almost certainly be the next president. I've argued Trump is a bigger threat than he ought to be, or than reasonable people think he will be, but ultimately he – and the Republican Party – have a near-insurmountable Electoral College problem.

Still, though, this general election will be as ugly as any in recent memory. Trump is a one-trick pony: He'll do what he does, namely sling mud and hurl insults. I doubt it will be enough to turn the election,but make no mistake: It will have an impact. The fact is, Clinton is deeply unpopular, as unpopular as any major party candidate we've seen with the lone exception of Trump.

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A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday is a reminder of just how close a Trump-Clinton contest could be. Among likely U.S. voters, Trump's numbers are surging. He's now virtually tied with Clinton, with 40 percent saying they'd back Trump and 41 percent saying they'd back Clinton. Last week Trump trailed Clinton by 13 points in this same poll, an indication of how much Republicans have rallied behind Trump since he became the presumptive nominee.

To be clear: It's still early in the process, and the Democrats have yet to rally behind a candidate. This survey is a soft measure of the political winds at the moment; it's nothing to panic over if you're a Clinton supporter — although it is a sign of the looming battle.

Against the backdrop of what will be a nasty general election fight, it's intriguing to consider what might have been. We know Joe Biden was close to pulling the trigger and running for president. Were it not for the sudden loss of his son, Beau Biden, he very likely would have.

Biden's popularity is as high as it's ever been right now, so it's easy to forget how weak a presidential candidate he was in 2008. In this climate, however, Biden may well have cruised to the nomination. Although his record in the senate is spotty at best, he has become decidedly more progressive in recent years. The liberal base of the party would likely have responded better to Biden than they have to Clinton. That a candidate like Bernie Sanders, a relatively unknown self-identified democratic socialist, could push Clinton to the brink is an indicator of how wide open the race really was. At the very least, this was Biden's last and best chance to become president.

Now there are more reasons to speculate about what could have been. According to a Politico report, if Biden did enter the race, he was sold on Elizabeth Warren as his Vice Presidential nominee:

“Biden, a senior Democratic official said, first mentioned Warren as a possible running mate during his earliest strategy sessions with a team of advisers that included friends Mike Donilon, Steve Richetti and Ted Kaufman...And Biden broached the idea, almost matter of factly, to Warren during a much-hyped lunch meeting at the vice president's residence on the grounds of the Naval Observatory last September. Biden, according to a person briefed on details of the meeting, told Warren he wanted her to be his running mater 'during the conversation' but didn't explicitly ask her to commit to the slot or endorse his candidacy.”

A Biden-Warren ticket would unquestionably defeat Trump in a landslide. Clinton may do so anyhow, but Biden's popularity, particularly among blue-collar Democrats, would remove all doubt. Indeed, assuming Trump was still the GOP nominee, this might have been the most lopsided general election in modern American history with Biden or a comparably popular Democrat at the top of the ticket.

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For her part, Warren has been careful not to make any endorsements. Ideologically aligned with Sanders, progressives hoped Warren would put her stamp on the Vermont senator. But she's refused to do so, perhaps because she wants to preserve any leverage she might have when Clinton becomes the nominee. There's a vanishingly slim chance Clinton may ask Warren to join the ticket at the convention, but that remains highly unlikely. Frankly, I'm not sure that's a wise move for Warren, who could accomplish more in the Senate than she could in the vice president's office. And even if Clinton taps Warren as her VP pick, there's no reason to suppose that would solve Clinton's unfavorability problem.

In any event, the news that Biden would have chosen Warren as his running mate has to make Democrats wonder how much different the landscape would look had Biden thrown his hat in the ring. Again, Biden is a flawed candidate, but running against Trump and the dumpster fire that is the GOP right now, his path to the White House would be wide and unimpeded.

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Sean Illing

Sean Illing is a USAF veteran who previously taught philosophy and politics at Loyola and LSU. He is currently Salon's politics writer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Read his blog here. Email at silling@salon.com.

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