Asked whether Joe Biden should run for president, Dick Cheney didn’t miss a beat on Monday. “I’d love to see Joe get in the race,” the former vice president told CNN, the faint smile on his lips underscored by the audible laughter of his daughter, Liz, who was sitting beside him. CNN’s production team, though, kept a straight face. “NEW DEVELOPMENTS,” the on-screen chyron blared, “CHENEY SUPPORTS JOE BIDEN PRESIDENTIAL BID.”
Cheney’s far from the first Republican to try to nudge Biden into the race—though given he’s currently on tour promoting his new book that takes explicit aim at Biden’s boss, his go-for-it-Joe encouragement rings even more hollow than most. “I think there’s a lot of support for him in the Democratic Party,” Cheney said. “I think it would stir things up. They’re short candidates on their side, so I’d urge Joe to have a shot at it.”
The Biden bubble owes its current size to a number of sources. The political press would prefer the illuminating drama of a contested primary to the boredom of a coronation. Anybody-but-Clinton liberals are eager for an alternative they believe would be more viable in the general election than Bernie Sanders. And even some Democratic powerbrokers would welcome an establishment-friendly Plan B in the event that Clinton’s campaign is ultimately felled by her email scandal or something else that pops up between now and next summer. Each of those groups has its own rationale, but all are at least making their respective cases in somewhat good faith.
Not the Republicans. Consider who was among the first to cheer on Biden this summer: Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus, a man whose chief priority is putting a Republican in the White House. Biden, Priebus said earlier this month, is “far more likeable” than Clinton. “I think he’s probably tougher,” he said on the Today show. “Hillary Clinton has a lot of problems. I think she is an opponent that’s easy to define.” Such Biden’s-the-better-candidate sentiments have since been echoed on the right to varying degrees by everyone from The Donald to the Drudge Report.
But make no mistake, conservatives don’t think Joe is a better candidate than Hillary—they think he’ll make her a worse one. They hope a Biden bid would force the Democratic front-runner to dip deep into her war chest in the primary, and divide the party’s establishment and donor base ahead of the general. You can’t blame Cheney and company for trying to make that dream a reality—but you shouldn’t believe what they’re saying either. If they really thought Hillary was a fatally flawed candidate, they wouldn’t be vocally calling for Biden to get in the race this summer—they’d be silently waiting to knock Clinton out of it come the next one.