It was 280 days ago that Joe Biden officially ruled out his last, best chance at the office that had always been his aspiration.
Tonight, the reality that his career in elected office was nearing an end seemed to truly hit home for the vice president, who had long marched to the beat of his own drum.
“This is kind of a bittersweet moment for me and Jill,” Biden told an admiring audience brandishing signs that bore only his first name.
In perhaps his last highest-profile speech to the nation, the former senator ably performed the role he’d mastered: the loyal lieutenant and validator of the middle class.
He called President Obama “the embodiment of honor, resolve and character,” then pivoted to Hillary Clinton, offering her his biggest compliment: “Hillary gets it.”
“Everyone knows she’s smart, everyone knows she’s tough,” he said of his party’s presidential nominee. “But I know what she’s passionate about. I know Hillary.”
Of Donald Trump, Biden offered one of his harshest admonishments: “His cynicism is unbounded.”
After this election, Biden will be out of office for the first time in more than a generation. But that doesn’t mean he will be on the sidelines. Biden plans to be on the trail throughout the fall, campaigning for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.
In two weeks he’ll join Clinton in the town he grew up in, Scranton, Pa. His mission: testify to her ability to deliver for middle class and economically distressed voters who might be drawn to Trump.
How can there be pleasure in saying, ‘You’re fired’?
Wednesday he targeted the Republican nominee’s credibility as a middle class warrior, as if it was personal.
“How can there be pleasure in saying, ‘You’re fired’?” he said of the reality star’s trademark phrase. “He’s trying to tell us he cares about the middle class? Give me a break! That’s a bunch of malarkey!”
Trump not only “doesn’t have a clue” how to make America great, Biden said, “he has no clue period!”
Biden reserved hushed tones, though, as he joined the evening’s speakers in challenging Trump’s temperament. Trump, he said, should never be commander-in-chief.
“We cannot elect a man who exploits our fears of ISIS and other terrorists, who has no plan whatsoever to make us safer, a man who embraces the tactics of our enemies,” he said. “Donald Trump, with all his rhetoric, would literally make us less safe.”
Biden’s political career has been bookended by tragedy. He nearly quit the Senate before he was sworn in after losing his wife and infant daughter in a car crash. The death last year of his eldest son, Beau, who had brain cancer, ultimately led him to choose the well-being of his family over that one last try for the White House.
Despite it all, Biden told an emotional audience that he ended his career as optimistic about the future of the country as he was when he was “a 29-year-old kid.”
“The 21st century is going to be the American century,” he said. “And God willing, God willing, Hillary Clinton will write the next chapter in that journey.”
For more 2016 campaign coverage, follow @mikememoli on Twitter