Witcover: Biden goes for broke against Trump

As Speaker Nancy Pelosi urges her House Democratic flock to focus on the party's liberal/progressive agenda, former Vice President Joe Biden's announcement as a presidential candidate doesn't mince words. He's out to kick President Donald Trump out of the Oval Office in 2020.

Boldly seizing his party's political leadership amid more cautious contenders, Mr. Biden is welcoming a direct confrontation with the Republican incumbent who revels in confrontation and personal invective.


It's probably not going to be pretty, considering Mr. Biden's Irish temper and Mr. Trump's trademark going for any opponent's jugular. But Mr. Biden argues that the honor and the survival of American democracy are at stake if left in Mr. Trump's hands.

The former vice president's aggressive actions have already elevated his third presidential bid. He has propelled himself into the headlines and endless television panel discussions, especially on cable.


His decision to launch his campaign with a video targeting Mr. Trump gave Mr. Biden an early shot at countering the dredging up of low points in his previous career. One such point was his chairing of the Senate Judiciary Committee during hearings for the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas, wherein witness Anita Hill complained of unfair treatment at Mr. Biden's hands. But it was better politically for this to come up again early in the campaign rather than later on.

Mr. Biden also awkwardly semi-apologized for being too touchy-feely with women, some of whom complained that he had invaded their personal space. But he then disclosed an opening fund-raising drive that yielded $6.3 million in the first 24 hours, eclipsing that of earlier campaign entrants.

He has made the most of what earlier had been criticized as joining the race too late and with too little. Throughout, he has displayed enough energy and enthusiasm to counter concerns of many voters that at age of 76, Mr. Biden is bidding to be the oldest American president to take office.

By plunging into heavy retail politicking in Pennsylvania and other Rust Belt states won by Mr. Trump in 2016, as well as in early 2020 primary and caucus battlegrounds, Mr. Biden is focusing on his career-long defense of blue-collar Americans and their continuing quest for economic security.

Mr. Biden was pressed on one television show to say whether if nominated he would choose a female as his running mate. He replied he would be looking for the individual best qualified to assume the highest office if fate and circumstance so required. He offered his own record as arguably the most effective presidential helpmate in our history as his credential for so saying.

It is much too early to determine whether Joe Biden is too old or too culturally out of step to lead a country in which millions of women are demonstrating their political empowerment and millennials regardless of gender, race or ethnicity are coming into their own maturity.

But right now, hordes of Democratic voters along with others are fed up with Mr. Trump's lies, ignorance, and autocratic and immoral behavior. The candidacy of Joe Biden, an old-school politician of demonstrable high character and broad foreign policy experience, may seem more salable than ever before.

Prior to last week, his seeming indecision about running risked reducing him to a fading figure in American politics. Instead, with a novel and surprisingly well-financed campaign emerging, Mr. Biden of Delaware now warrants a more serious third look as he reaches for the ultimate prize in American politics.


One wide advantage he has over the other Democrats and Mr. Trump is his deep and broad experience in foreign policy and commitment to strengthening American ties and common interests around the world. Especially in Western Europe and Central America, he is familiarly "Joe" to foreign leaders.

Perhaps more importantly, he has already managed to get deeply under Mr. Trump's skin, as a challenger not only of his racist words and policies but also of his crude and personally offensive manner unbefitting the occupant of the Oval Office.

Candidate debates in primary and caucus states starting next month will give Mr. Biden the chance to show his stuff amid a host of political newcomers aiming at him as the frontrunner. Barack Obama, in choosing him as his running mate in 2008, cited Mr. Biden's performances in their debates as a reason. That skill could make or break him in demonstrating whether his time has passed or is just arriving.

Jules Witcover's latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power," published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at