One of my editors called last week with a question:
“If Hillary implodes who is your long-shot hunch to carry the Democratic banner into the fall?” This one is much easier than last week’s speculation on who might emerge from a brokered Republican National Convention.
First, though, is it possible that one of Mrs. Clinton’s currently declared (or about to declare) rivals could catch fire? The answer is no.
Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley was not all that well-liked by Marylanders. As a former Baltimore mayor he also was one of the architects of the Baltimore Police Department’s “when in doubt arrest ‘em” policy even for the slightest of infractions, especially if one lived on the wrong side of the tracks. Hard to see him catching fire.
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Then there’s the mecurial former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, who announced the formation of an exploratory committee and then promptly dropped from view. As a former decorated Vietnam veteran Marine, the best selling author of Fields of Fire and Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, Webb was expected by an eagerly hopeful media to tie Mrs. Clinton in knots if in a debate with her over defense policy.
While considered by some pundits to be a new, younger looking face for the electorate to contrast with .Mrs. Clinton, who, along with her husband Bill, aka “Slick Willie,” seems to have been around forever, Webb is in fact 69 years old as is Hillary. Thus, he will have a hard time making the case he represents a generational change.
Then there is the just announced former Rhode Island governor and senator, Lincoln Chaffee, who styles himself as an “internationalist” and is the son of long-time respected moderate Republican Senator John Chaffee. The younger Chaffee created a bit of a buzz in his announcement by saying he would work to have America truly adopt the metric system and join the rest of the world.
This falls under the rubric “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Most Americans are content with the system of measurements we have and there’s no feeling this is a problem in search of a solution. A platform item that advocates change when there is no crying need for the change hardly appears to be a winning formula.
So, if Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy implodes, and trust me on this one, there’s a national media salivating at the almost certain prospect that she’ll stumble or say something that flies in the face of conventional wisdom which will ignite the “blood in a pool of sharks” phenomenon. In other words, the media will generate a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Is there a dark horse waiting in the wings? The more liberal element of the Party is advancing Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. She does have a captivating, up-by-the-bootstraps, divorced single Mom story and is unquestionably brilliant. On the other hand, she has a caustic style and does not exactly convey a warm, fuzzy feeling. She’s hard to like and most people want their president to be likeable (remember “I like Ike!).
That leaves only one other possibility for someone to pick up the pieces of a shattered Clinton candidacy who can quickly unite the Democratic Party with a plausible, possibly winning candidacy: Vice President Joe Biden.
No one watching this past Saturday the funeral of his 46-year-old son, Beau, a former two-term Delaware Attorney General, can fail not to have been deeply moved by the dignity and grace with which he met this latest tragedy in his star-crossed life. Nor can one have failed to have seen the incredible love of family manifesting itself.
Joe Biden is a survivor who has taken the worst of the slings and arrows of misfortune one can be handed---the loss of his first wife and daughter in an accident before he had even turned 30 and take the seat he had just won in the U.S. Senate. Sure, he is the quintessential, optimistic, back-slapping politician subject to an occasional verbal gaffe.
However, he’s the real deal and a rarety among office holders and seekers today. He’s truly the authentic person you see, an honest, compassionate human being who has always seen public service as a noble calling. President Obama’s fine eulogy underscored the loyalty that exists between the families and the two of them.
If Hillary stumbles and implodes, he will step up to the challenge with the most human of the competing narratives and will be a formidable candidate. If by chance you missed this past weekend’s coverage, find a copy of the best presidential politics book ever written, called What It Takes, and reread Richard Ben Cramer’s profile of Joe Biden. You’ll see why he will be a much better candidate than Mrs. Clinton.