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One Insider's View Of Biden's Decision-Making Process


Let's get one perspective on the presidential campaign now that we know for sure that Joe Biden will not be in it. The vice president cut off months of speculation yesterday. His every move was closely watched until he said the window for him had closed, which means that Hillary Clinton has one less rival for the presidential nomination. Our next guest is David Axelrod. He was an architect of the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama, the man Joe Biden serves as vice president and that Hillary Clinton served as secretary of state, so he's dealt with them both. Mr. Axelrod, welcome back to the program.

DAVID AXELROD: Good to be here.

INSKEEP: How surprised were you that Biden didn't run?

AXELROD: I really wasn't surprised for a number of reasons. One is I think no one understands the toll and the demands of running for president more than Joe Biden, who's done it twice before and who was on a national ticket twice. And so I'm sure he was weighing that against some of the things that his family's been through. But the bigger point was there was really no room for him in this race. There was time in the summer - there was a time in the summer when Hillary Clinton was stumbling and Democrats were in something of a panic and urging him in as an alternative. But that period has passed, and she really slammed the door on it with her very strong debate performance. So if you look at the polls, she is a pretty solid frontrunner here, and Bernie Sanders is a very solid second place. Together, they have about 75 percent of the vote. There just was no room for Biden in this race.

INSKEEP: I'm curious if Joe Biden might have tugged Hillary Clinton to the right the way that Bernie Sanders is perceived as tugging Hillary Clinton toward the left on certain issues, economic issues especially.

AXELROD: Well, you know, I think it's not just Bernie Sanders that's tugging her in that direction. It's the nature of the electorate and the concerns that people have about stagnant wages and inequality. These are big issues. And so in a sense, Bernie Sanders is doing her a bit of a favor by dragging her that way. I actually think her switch of positions on trade...

INSKEEP: Oh yeah, the Pacific trade deal, right.

AXELROD: Yeah, trade was as much a response to Biden as it was to Sanders. She knew that the vice president was very much tied to the president's policy and would have to be. And she wanted to head him off at the pass, particularly with organized labor.

INSKEEP: And that's, of course, an issue where Hillary Clinton had previously spoken in favor of the Pacific trade deal. Once the details were out, she said she was against it, which puts her at odds with the president and presumably with the vice president. I want to ask about something else here, and it has to do with tone. In the debate the other night, Hillary Clinton listed enemies, had quite a few of them on her mind, including probably Republicans, she said. Vice President Biden twice seemed to rebuke her, saying that Republicans are not enemies but friends. What is real about the difference there?

AXELROD: Well, look, I think that there was an element of truth to what she said. I think she views herself in combat with the Republicans. But at other times, and even in that debate, she said she wants to be a bridge. She understands how to work with Republicans. I think on balance that was an imprudent thing for her to say, although as you could see, it played well in that room with very partisan Democrats.

INSKEEP: But is there a real difference of approach there? Would somebody like Biden or a different Democrat take a different approach than Hillary Clinton to Republicans?

AXELROD: You know, Biden has long-term relationships in the Senate, but she has some in the Congress. And she has some as well. And there are certain immutable realities of both governance and our politics. Governance requires that you work together on some things. Politics in our very polarized country requires that you have, at least show, some bared teeth from time to time toward the other party.

INSKEEP: David Axelrod, I want to ask something else of you, a prediction actually. On the Republican side, speaking here as a professional, in the same way that Joe Biden loomed over the Democratic race for a while but has now vanished as we might have suspected that he would - the evidence was there that he might not actually run - is there anybody on the GOP side who looms large now to you but you think might be gone before long?

AXELROD: Well, look, it's hard to loom large with Donald Trump in the picture because he kind of eclipses everybody else. One of the questions is, how long will he stay atop the field there? And if he starts to slide, I think that you have to look at Senator Cruz of Texas, who has amassed a great deal of money, is a hero with some folks on the right, who is focused like a laser on social conservatives and, you know, who may have the wherewithal to make a push on the right.


AXELROD: And then the question is, who's the center-left - who's the center-right candidate, and will someone emerge to challenge the right?

INSKEEP: Got to stop you there. David Axelrod, always a pleasure. Thanks.

AXELROD: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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