Photo: Scott Olson (Getty)

We’ve barely taken 2019 out of the wrapper and we’ve already had one major announcement by a prominent Democrat that she’s running for president. From the looks of a New York Times report on New Year’s Day, it looks like former Vice President Joe Biden isn’t far behind.

Biden has spent his time since his tenure as vice president ended—his first period outside of the federal government in over 40 years—campaigning for Democrats in swing states, not directly apologizing to Anita Hill for his treatment of her during the Clarence Thomas nomination, starting an institute at his alma mater, still not apologizing to Anita Hill, emphatically trashing millennials, challenging Donald Trump to an embarrassing old man fight, and more, all of which we’ve heard consistently over the past few years because Biden knows how to keep himself in the news.

All of this might look like his typical ol’ Gaffe Machine Joe Biden shtick, but there is—and has always been—a method to his madness. From the Times:

So long as a campaign remains possible, Mr. Biden has appeared mindful of the political backlash against the last Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, for earning millions by speaking to private interests in the run-up to 2016, and for her family foundation’s acceptance of huge sums from corporate and foreign donors.

He has imposed telling restrictions on his moneymaking and fund-raising activities: Mr. Biden does not speak for pay to corporate, advocacy or foreign groups and does not consult or sit on boards, said Bill Russo, his spokesman. His nonprofits do not accept contributions from abroad, and the Biden Cancer Initiative does not take money from drug companies, he said.

Yet Mr. Biden, whose blue-collar roots have been central to his political persona through six terms in the Senate and two as vice president, has accumulated millions of dollars through a lucrative book deal and selective paid speaking.

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The central anecdote of the Times story is one where the University of Utah invited Biden to speak at its campus in Salt Lake City last month. Biden’s speaking fee was $100,000—his “reduced rate” for colleges—but once the former vice president’s team found out the college would be using state funds to pay him, Biden rejected the money and went anyway.

If you really want to be charitable, this was a selfless decision made in order to keep the college happy and to relieve the Utah public of the financial burden of $100,000. But it’s more likely that the real reason Biden did this was to head off any criticism that he’s been bought off by anyone, similar to what Hillary Clinton faced in the 2016 campaign.

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It’s not as if Biden won’t face those criticisms anyway, considering he was known as the “Senator from MBNA” during his thirty-plus years in the Senate, but the anecdote is a useful reminder that Biden has always been more of a political operator than he’s ever been given credit for. When he was a young “liberal” senator facing the prospect of losing mass support if he supported implementing school busing to integrate schools, he opposed it. And it’s continued to this day: after Maureen Dowd wrote in 2015 that Biden’s dying son Beau encouraged him to run for president, Vanity Fair reported that Joe himself was Dowd’s source for the story.

The biggest drawback for Biden is that he can’t talk himself out of his past, from his career-long shilling for credit card companies to his role in aiding the explosion of mass incarceration in the 1990s. Joe Biden isn’t Hillary Clinton 2.0; in some ways, he’s even worse. And hopefully, no amount of folksy bullshit will be able to make voters forget what Biden is, has been, and always will be: A tireless self-promoter who has frequently swayed with the political winds in horrible, stupid directions.