The twenty-second amendment to the United States constitution bars a president from running for a third term. In 2016 Hillary Clinton attempted to defy this constitutional prohibition by running for president as Barack Obama. Planning to build upon Obamacare and her predecessor’s other policy initiatives, Clinton all but confessed her hopes of presiding over the third Obama administration.
Donald Trump, her Republican opponent, agreed that a Clinton presidency would indeed be an extension of Obama’s. After Trump’s victory, he could logically claim that he had defeated not just Clinton, but President Obama as well.
As the candidate of change, Trump promised to not just dismantle Obamacare, but also a large portion of the regulations that his predecessor had put in place. So when he attacked Clinton, he was attacking Obama as well.
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Three years from now, it is possible that Obama will run once again – this time as Joe Biden. Biden’s claim to be Obama is much stronger than Clinton’s. After all, during the two terms he served as Obama’s vice president, the two men became very close collaborators.
Biden regrets not having run in 2016, when he might well have beaten Trump. He has long harbored hopes of being elected president, having run unsuccessfully twice in the past for the Democratic nomination.
Once you’ve been a serious presidential candidate, the urge to run again remains in your blood. Mitt Romney ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination in 2008 before winning it in 2012. After losing the election to Barack Obama that year, he coyly remained on the sidelines in 2016. But after Donald Trump began gaining support, Romney offered himself to Republican party leaders as a possible alternative. When they demurred, he quickly withdrew his offer.
William Jennings Bryan secured the Democratic nomination three times around the turn of the twentieth century, and lost each of his races. And Adlai Stevenson, the Democrat who was defeated by Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, made himself quite openly available for a draft at the 1960 Democratic convention, where John F. Kennedy was nominated.
Would the fact that Joe Biden will be 78 years old in 2020 deter him from running again? Would Trump, who will be 73, or Bernie Sanders, who will be 79, proclaim Biden too old to be president?
If the Republican and Democratic candidates are each in their seventies, then their advanced ages cannot be used against them. Although Trump is already officially a candidate for reelection, it’s hardly a sure thing he will run again.
Three big questions remain between now and the day after election day in 2018, when the next presidential campaign will begin. First and foremost: will Trump still be president, let alone be gearing up to run for reelection? A second question, which will depend largely on the results of the 2018 Congressional election, is whether Trump will still have strong support among party leaders as well as among its rank-and-file voters. And finally, will he even want to run for reelection?
Before we consider Biden’s chances in the 2020 Democratic primary, let’s look at what he would have had to have done to secure the nomination in 2016. Unlike Clinton and Sanders, he would have needed to channel Goldilocks.
If you remember the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, then Biden would have needed to simultaneously impersonate a bowl of porridge that was not too hot or too cold, a chair that was not too hard or too soft, and a bed that was not too big or too small. A classic middle-of-the-road candidate, he would have needed to appeal to voters who were too liberal to vote for Clinton, while too conservative to vote for Sanders. That would have been quite a tight fit in 2016, after Clinton pragmatically shifted some long-held positions to the left to counter Sanders.
Clinton received the lion’s share of the black vote – especially in the South – while Sanders got almost all of the Millennials and ultraliberals, as well as most of the votes of working class whites. So perhaps Biden’s chances of winning the Democratic nomination in 2016 were not that great, especially since he would have entered the race several months after Clinton and Sanders.
But 2020 will be an entirely different story. There will almost certainly be a very crowded field of candidates. Presumably, Bernie Sanders, and very possibly, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, will divvy up the liberal vote. But in doing so, they will prevent each other from running away with the nomination.
But Joe Biden might have a good shot at getting most of the black vote, especially because of his close association with Barack Obama. He will still have some appeal to working class whites, and will be the only candidate who would remind voters of the good old days they enjoyed before Trump, when our nation was actually under “adult supervision.”
Does Joe Biden have a legitimate chance of getting nominated and then elected in 2020? Like so many other career politicians, running for president is in his blood. After running twice before, and now regretting not having run in 2016, he will very likely run again. Will he beat Trump in 2020? Running as Barack Obama, he may have a pretty good shot.
But someone else might run as Barack Obama in the next presidential election. That’s right! The word inside the Beltway is that if the Democratic presidential convention were deadlocked, Hillary Clinton might be open to a draft.
About the Author
Steve Slavin has a PhD in economics from NYU, and taught for over thirty years at Brooklyn College, New York Institute of Technology, and New Jersey’s Union County College. He has written sixteen math and economics books including a widely used introductory economics textbook now in its eleventh edition (McGraw-Hill) and The Great American Economy (Prometheus Books) which was published in August.