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Joe Biden Says He Won’t Run for President in 2016

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Updated: | Originally published: ;

In the end, Joe Biden just didn’t have it in him.

The 72-year-old Vice President said Wednesday at the White House that he would not make a third bid for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. The revelation came after weeks of public agonizing about whether he could muster the emotional strength to challenge his party’s frontrunner, Hillary Clinton.

“Unfortunately I believe we’re out of time, the time necessary to mount a winning campaign for the nomination,” Biden said in the White House’s Rose Garden, with wife Jill to his left and President Barack Obama to his right

Biden’s announcement was the final word on whether he would try to honor a request from his late son that he take another stab at the job he first sought in 1988, at age 44. The presidency still appealed to Biden, but the pathway there, he recognized, was too difficult for a family still grieving Beau Biden, who lost his fight with brain cancer in May. Beau was two years old than the man he called “pop” when he made his first White House run.

He encouraged the other Democrats seeking the White House to support the legacy of President Obama. “They should run on this record,” he said. And he promised to push for progress on the issues that matter to him for the remainder of his time in office, calling in particular for a “moon shot” to fight cancer.

“While I will not be a candidate,” Biden said, “I will not be silent.” Just because Biden was not to appear on ballots, that did not mean he would retire his attack-dog instincts. After all, few in politics today can deliver a jab as effectively without looking like a bully.

“We intend to spend the next 15 months fighting for what we care about,” Biden said, hinting that he would use his office and his political skills to help Obama and the eventual Democratic nominee. “We are fully capable of accomplishing extraordinary things. … We can do so much more.”

In recent months, Biden has suggested he was serious about a run. He made campaign-style stops in swing states of Florida, Ohio and Michigan. He met with Democratic constituencies, including Jewish leaders, Hispanics and women. He started meeting with would-be-aides for a bid, although most left unclear if Biden were serious.

But the more his close advisers listened to Biden, the more they realized their preparations for a Biden 2016 campaign might be for naught. None begrudged the Vice President for the hours he had them meet at kitchen tables in Delaware and or porches in South Carolina. They were happy to use cell phone minutes as they kept tending calls from would-be aides or supporters. To a fault, his network of former aides remains fiercely loyal and protective. Almost everyone on these calls continued to believe that Biden would have been an exceptional President.

See Joe Biden’s Career in Pictures

Joe Biden Yearbook Photo
Joe Biden in 1965 at the University of Delaware.University of Delaware
Biden And Family 1972
Senator Joe Biden carries both of his sons, Joseph R. III (left) and Robert H. (right) during an appearance at the Democratic state convention in 1972. At center is his first wife Neilia.AP—AP
Jimmy Carter, Joseph Biden Jr,
Jimmy Carter and Joe Biden at a fund raising reception in Wilmington, Del., on Feb. 20, 1978.AP
Biden And Family 1985
Joe Biden takes a mock oath of office from George H. W. Bush, accompanied by his family in Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 3, 1985. Lana Harris—AP
Biden Campaign Begins 1987
Joe Biden and his family, including his second wife Jill (far left), after announcing his candidacy for president in Wilmington, Del., on June 9, 1987.George Widman—AP
Biden with Kennedy and Thurmond
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden (center) reads from his tally sheet following the committee's voice vote to recommend Robert H. Bork for the Supreme Court on Oct. 6, 1987 in Washington. Senator Strom Thurmond (left) and Senator Edward Kennedy (right) listen.John Duricka—AP
Bill clinton air force one bosnia
Bill Clinton (center) aboard Air Force One en route to Bosnia, with Madeline Albright (middle right), Joe Biden (far right), Bob Dole (left), Elizabeth Dole (far left) and Ted Stevens on Dec. 22, 1997.D. Delaware—Office of Senator Joe Biden
Joe Biden Kabul 2002
Joe Biden visits the old Soviet Embassy compound in Kabul on Jan. 11, 2002.Enric Marti—AP
Senator John Kerry, Senator Ben Nelson, Senator Joseph Biden, Senator Christopher Dodd, seated, and Senator Barack Obama.
Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gather on Jan. 19, 2005, in Capitol Hill, Washington, DC.Dennis Cook—AP
Mike Gravel, Christopher Dodd, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich
Democratic presidential hopefuls, from left: former Senator Mike Gravel, Senator Christopher Dodd, former Senator John Edwards, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator Barack Obama, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Senator Joe Biden, and Representative Dennis Kucinich stand together before the start of the debate sponsored by CNN, YouTube and Google at The Citadel military college in Charleston, S.C., on July 23, 2007.Charles Dharapak—AP
Joe Biden
Joe Biden walks after accepting his party's nomination as their vice presidential candidate at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Col., on Aug. 27, 2008.Stephan Savoia—AP
USA - 2008 Presidential Election - Barack Obama Elected Prsident
Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Joe Biden and Jill Biden celebrate after Obama's victory speech at the election night rally in Chicago, on Nov. 04, 2008.Brooks Kraft—Corbis
USA - Politics - Vice President Joe Biden
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden attends a Recovery Act Implementation Cabinet meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House campus in Washington, on June 25, 2009.Brooks Kraft—Corbis
US Vice President Joe Biden (L) arrives
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visits an Afghan National Army training center in Kabul on Jan. 11, 2011.Shah Marai—AFP/Getty Images
President Obama Announces Death of Osama Bin Laden
U.S. President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and members of the national security team receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House on May 1, 2011, in Washington.The White House/Getty Images
The Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC
Joe Biden speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 06, 2012.Brooks Kraft—Corbis
Obama/Biden Camp Election Day Coverage
Vice President Joe Biden during an election night rally in Chicago, on Nov. 7, 2012.Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images
President Obama Signs The Violence Against Women Act
U.S. President Barack Obama (center), joined by (left to right) Vice President Joseph Biden, trafficking survivor Tysheena Rhames, House Minority Leader Representative Nancy Pelosi, Senator Michael Crapo, Senator Patrick Leahy, House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer, Representative Gwen Moore, and Director of Public Policy of Casa de Esperanza Rosemary Hidalgo-McCabe, signs the Violence Against Women Act into law at the Department of the Interior March 7, 2013 in Washington. The law expanded protections for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and trafficking. Alex Wong—Getty Images
Pope Francis Addresses Joint Meeting Of U.S. Congress
Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the US Capitol building with Vice President Joe Biden, Kevin McCarthy and John Boehner on Sept. 24, 2015 in Washington. Evy Mages—Getty Images
U.S.-WASHINGTON D.C.-CHINA-XI JINPING-ARRIVAL
China's President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan are welcomed by Vice President Joe Biden and his wife at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington on Sept. 24, 2015.Huang Jingwen—Xinhua/Getty Images

Throughout his public hedging and personal conversations, Biden continued to ask his closest advisers if they thought he stood a chance at winning the nomination. The road ahead would be rough, they told him, and cautioned him that the kid gloves he enjoyed as a beloved Vice President would not continue should he make a play for the Presidency. His approach would suddenly be scrutinized, and every word he has uttered during the last seven years as Vice President subjected to another look, they warned him. Did he really want to subject himself—and his still-mourning family—to that for a campaign and, perhaps, eight years as President?

Biden saw his potential and peril in public polling. Yes, he was personally popular, his aides cautioned, but those favorable views would likely sink should he become a candidate. Remember Clinton’s polling numbers when she left her job as an apolitical Secretary of State, they urged him. Those numbers sank as she re-entered politics and was no longer a diplomat. And liking someone wasn’t the same as wanting to vote for someone.

For the first time in a generation, a sitting Vice President would enter the Presidential race as an underdog to succeed his boss, some 27 points behind Hillary Clinton in the a CNN poll released Oct. 19, with a plurality of his own party—38% to 30% in the same poll—saying that he should just retire. He has scant campaign money, an almost no campaign apparatus.

In the end, Biden came to the same conclusion. He still has the drive to be President; it’s hard to snuff that desire. But this was simply not the time, he concluded. He spoke frankly about lacking the “emotional fuel” for a run during conversations with allies, and it never materialized, no matter how much he wanted to honor a final request from his late son.

“Beau is our inspiration,” the Vice President said. But he wasn’t enough to sustain a long and likely brutal campaign.

The Vice President, whose first wife and daughter died in a car crash in 1972, is exceptionally close with his family. He counted on his son Beau, the 46-year-old former Attorney General of Delaware, as a top political adviser. Before his death, Beau urged his “pop,” as he called him, to promise he would run for the White House in 2016. Biden resisted making the promise, but asked his closest advisers to investigate what it would take to make that happen.

Then, Beau died. His death hit the Biden clan exceptionally hard, and Biden largely disappeared from the White House and his suite of offices next door at the former War Department temple during the summer.

As the Bidens retreated to South Carolina, a favorite refuge, word of Beau’s request found its way into a New York Times column, and talk of a presidential run started getting more serious. Clinton backers—and those who were cheering on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders as an alternative to the former First Lady—were watching Biden’s deliberations trying to figure out his plans.

“If I were to announce to run, I have to be able to commit to all of you that I would be able to give it my whole heart and my whole soul,” Biden told members of the Democratic National Committee. “And right now, both are pretty well banged up.”

But at another event, in Pittsburgh, Biden trotted through a Labor Day parade as though he were already running. In the crowd, supporters chanted, “Run, Joe, Run.”

In the end, though, Biden thought better of it. As he painfully confided to “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert—and the nation watching on television—he was hardly at his fighting best.

“I don’t think any man or woman should run for president, unless number one they know exactly why they would want to be President,” Biden said. “And, two, they can look at the folks out there and say, ‘I promise you (that) you have my whole heart, my whole soul, my energy and my passion to do this.’ And I’d be lying if I said I knew I was there.”

In the end, he was not.

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Write to Philip Elliott at philip.elliott@time.com