Joe Biden was already in his second term as senator from Delaware when Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. What did America’s 40th president think of the man trying to become its 46th? The Reagan Diaries, edited by Douglas Brinkley and released in 2007, provides some answers.
The first mention of Biden in Reagan’s presidential diary comes on July 14, 1983.
“Gov. Pierre DuPont came by,” Reagan wrote. “I’m trying to convince him to run for Bidens Sen. Seat. He doesn’t want to & I can’t blame him. I wouldn’t have wanted to be a Senator after my 8 yrs. as Gov. He’s been a d—n good Gov. too.”
(All the typographical quirks are from the original.)
DuPont begged off the challenge and Biden, along with Reagan, cruised to reelection in 1984. Biden shows up once again in an entry from March of that year.
“This modern age!” Reagan wrote on March 6. “Spent half a day in the office then by mid afternoon I was addressing the Nat. Assn. of Evangelicals in Columbus Ohio, then at Dinner in N.Y., a Repub. $1000 ticket fundraiser & went to bed in the W.H. Before flying to Columbus, met with Sens. Bill Cohen & Joe Biden. They’ve been to Russia & are all wrapped up in ‘Arms Reductions.’ I suspect that at least one of them (J.B.) doesn’t believe I’m sincere about wanting them.”
Here is yet another example of Biden being wrong.
Reagan seems to have respected Biden as an opponent, while disagreeing with his beliefs and tactics. In the summer of 1986 the Senate Judiciary Committee opened proceedings on Reagan’s nomination of William Rehnquist to chief justice of the Supreme Court.
“The 1st meeting was last evening—highlighted by vitriolic attacks on TV by Sens. Kennedy, Metzenbaum & Biden,” Reagan wrote on July 30. “They really are a lynch mob.”
The campaign to succeed Reagan began the following year. Biden launched his first bid for president in early June.
“1st meeting with Ken D. & the V.P.—Howard late getting back from Tennessee,” Reagan wrote on June 15. “Some talk about Sen. Biden—now cand. for Pres. I saw him on CNN last night speaking to the John F. Kennedy School at Harvard U. He’s smooth but pure demagog—out to save Am. from the Reagan Doctrine.”
It turned out that America didn’t want saving. Not from Biden. Plagiarism and resume inflation forced him out of the race by late September. When he tried again in 2008, he came in fifth in Iowa and promptly dropped out. The vice presidency was his consolation prize. Now on his third try, Biden doesn’t seem to have changed all that much from the man Ronald Reagan described long ago. He is, of course, much older. He doesn’t seem much wiser.