When former Vice President Joe Biden appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert in 2015, shortly after the death of his son Beau from cancer, he wouldn’t answer Colbert’s questions about whether he’d run for president in 2016. In that memorably emotional interview, Biden told Colbert that his emotional state following his son’s death had left him unable to commit “110 percent” to the task, despite Beau’s urging that Biden not abandon his commitment to public service in the grief that they both knew was coming. Well, with 2016 turning out the way it did, and with the country reeling and divided after a year of Donald Trump’s, let’s call it, “leadership,” Biden returned to The Late Show—and refused to answer the same question regarding 2020.
“I’m not gonna ask,” said Colbert, before immediately asking if the now 74-year-old Biden was planning to run. Biden, there in part to promote his new book about his relationship with his late son, Promise Me, Dad: A Year Of Hope, Hardship, And Purpose, remained cagy, even refusing to list other potential Democratic candidates in fear of, as he said, “leaving somebody out.” But Biden was less reticent when talking about the person in the White House now, expounding, in an extended, conspicuously presidential-sounding speech, about just what’s at stake in the 2020 election—and every one before then.
Calling what’s happening right now “a battle for the soul of this country,” Biden spoke of Trump’s equivocal response to the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia (where 32-year-old protester Heather Heyer was murdered by a white supremacist) as the moment when he had to abandon any pretense of, as he’d counseled, giving Trump “an even shot.” Referring to the torch-wielding neo-Nazis chanting “the same exact bile” against Jews that the Nazis used in 1930s Germany, Biden called Trump’s silence (and bullshit “both sides” rhetoric) “deafening.”
Implicating not just Trump but also Breitbart News white nationalist and former Trump strategist Steve Bannon and the “reprehensible” “alt-right” types “crawling out from under rocks,” Biden called for Americans to resist Trump’s appeal to divisive nationalism and to get engaged in order to say, “Enough is enough.” As for that whole 2020 issue, while Colbert (who said he was “honored” to call Biden his guest) didn’t address some of the things that complicate the idea of a Biden/Someone Much Younger ticket, he and his appreciative audience were clearly receptive to Biden’s call for people to ensure that the blight of a Trump presidency will, “God willing, go down as the single exception in American history.”