Is Joe Biden a secret Bernie Sanders supporter?

Joe Biden was quick to qualify his apparent preference for Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton – his decision not to run for president appears to explain a lot.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo
Vice President Joe Biden smiles after speaking at an event in Washington. Biden described Senator Bernie Sanders on Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, as more authentic on economic inequality than Hillary Clinton.

Is Joe Biden an undeclared Bernie Sanders supporter? We ask that question because in a CNN interview broadcast Monday the vice president sure sounded like a secret member of the Feel the Bern club.

Talking with CNN’s Gloria Borger, Vice President Biden said that Senator Sanders is doing “a heck of a job” on the campaign trail. And he strongly backed the Vermont senator on the latter’s main issue, income inequality.

“Bernie is speaking to a yearning that is deep and real, and he has credibility on it,” said Biden.

In contrast, Hillary Clinton is a newcomer to this issue, according to the VP. The implication: She’s a less authentic voice on the dangers of the concentration of wealth, a core concern of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

“It’s relatively new for Hillary to talk about that ... no one questions Bernie’s authenticity on those issues,” said Biden.

Biden has since “clarified” these statements, saying he intended no disrespect toward the former secretary of State. Mrs. Clinton has spent years focusing on foreign policy, Biden said Tuesday on NBC’s "Today", while inequality has been Sanders’s “mantra” since he leapt into the campaign.

But Biden perhaps protesteth too much. It’s no secret that he’s a liberal leaner, more inclined toward that faction that Howard Dean famously called the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” Those are the folks most excited about the white-haired, finger-pointing, New York-accented presidential contender from Vermont. They’re the ones who chant his signature lines, such as “break up the banks,” at rallies.

Nor is Biden the president of the United States. Barack Obama believes it’s unbecoming for the nation’s chief executive to endorse a Democratic candidate prior to the general election. But the VP may feel it’s OK for the second-in-command to at least hint at where his heart lies.

Plus, it’s clear Biden remains torn about not running for president himself. Earlier this month he said he regrets his decision to stay out “every day,” even though it remains the right decision for his family in the wake of the death of his son and presumed political heir, Beau.

Of course, as we’ve noted in the past, Biden actually did run, after a fashion. He consulted advisers, dropped leaks to the press, and generally acted like someone engaged in the so-called “invisible primary” stage of presidential politics.

The problem was he lost, to Hillary Clinton. She’d locked up all the establishment support long before Biden began his explorations. It seemed clear to him that he had no path to victory. That played a large role in his final decision.

So it would not be be too surprising if Biden’s feelings towards Clinton were a complicated mix of support, admiration, and resentment. In contrast, Sanders is playing the role of an emotional, populist crusader. In that sense he’s probably much closer to doing what Biden envisioned doing himself.

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