Axelrod: Biden in ‘Candidate-Protection Program’

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Former Obama White House adviser David Axelrod knocked Joe Biden, saying he is in the "candidate-protection program" and criticizing Biden's "bewildering" treatment of the controversy surrounding his son.

Interviewed for a new profile of the Biden campaign, Axelrod told New York magazine that the protective cocoon the former vice president's team has placed around him is a sign of weakness.

"They have him in the candidate-protection program," Axelrod said. "I don't know if you can do that. I don't know if you can get through a whole campaign that way. Either he can hack it or he can't hack it. If you're worried the candidate can hurt himself talking to a reporter, that's a bad sign."

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Axelrod said there is a "sense of hanging on" in his candidacy that is troubling. Biden remains atop the majority of primary polls but has Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) close on his heels.

"Perhaps he can [hang on],"Axelrod said. "But that's generally not the way the physics of these things work. Generally, you're either moving up or moving down. Warren is clearly moving up. There's no sign that he is."

Axelrod's comments were not the worst criticism Biden received in the profile.

"He has no center. He's literally only a politician," said an anonymous person, described as close to the Biden family. "Biden is fundamentally a toadie. He's just political. He needs to kiss ass? He'll kiss ass."

Since launching his campaign in April, Biden has largely shunned interviews. However, he appeared on 60 Minutes Sunday night, discussing the 2020 race, why he claims he told Barack Obama he did not want his endorsement, and his son Hunter Biden's controversial role at a Ukrainian gas company.

The elder Biden again forcefully defended his son, saying he hadn't done a "single thing wrong" in taking a lucrative position with the company while his father oversaw U.S. policy on Ukraine. Biden previously said he was "proud" of his son's decision making, even after Hunter told ABC News he'd exhibited "poor judgment."

Axelrod told New York that he did not understand Biden's continued defense of his son's actions.

"It's sort of bewildering. I guess I understand it from a familial, psychological sense. It would just be so much better if he stated the obvious: Even Hunter has said he exercised poor judgment. He won’t even say what his kid said," Axelrod said. "It's an obvious question as to why the rules that he's going to apply in the future didn't apply in the past."

Axelrod added that Biden "can be stubborn" and his "stubbornness is showing here."

Despite serving in the Obama administration, Axelrod hasn't backed off criticizing Biden. He has said Biden "serially" distorts his own record, and that Biden's flip-flop on the Hyde Amendment earlier this year underscored concerns about whether he could survive a campaign. Axelrod also mocked Biden's celebration of "Best Friends Day" when he tweeted a picture of his friendship bracelet with Obama.