The angst over Joe Biden's assault allegation has an easy resolution
Exhausted at the prospect of a damaged nominee? It doesn't have to be this way.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden finally confronted the rape accusation against himself on Friday. He went on MSNBC's Morning Joe, where he categorically denied the events described by his accuser, Tara Reade, had happened and insisted that he would not release his Senate papers early so reporters could look at them. On the other hand, he also said "Women have a right to be heard and the press should rigorously investigate claims they make."
All this is no doubt intensely frustrating for loyal Democratic voters. President Trump has been accused of worse than what Biden is alleged to have done, and on more than one occasion, yet largely skated from serious scrutiny. That is probably why when Chris Hayes did a segment on the story on his own MSNBC show, furious Democratic partisans made #FireChrisHayes trend nationally on Twitter.
But getting mad is not going to get Democrats out of their Biden fix. Only one thing can do that — pressuring Biden out of the race, and replacing him with someone else.
As I have previously written, Reade's story about Biden is credible. It would never meet the courtroom standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt," but given that Reade is now known to have privately told at least five people what happened at the time or in the years following, it can't be dismissed out of hand. Biden has a track record of behaving creepily around women, and has a long history of ridiculous exaggeration and telling bald-faced lies. At bottom, it is quite similar to many other #MeToo stories.
The plain fact is that this accusation is going to dog Biden for the rest of the campaign. Trump has already started talking about it. The right-wing media will cover the story for purely political reasons. Fox News does not care about #MeToo, but the story damages Biden, demoralizes Democrats, and makes liberals look like egregious hypocrites. The sight of nearly every Democratic-aligned women's rights group queasily keeping silent about the story is simply delicious for the likes of Sean Hannity (though a few have started speaking out).
It's also hard to see how Biden could conclusively "address" the story, as some liberals have advocated. At bottom it is a case of he-said-she-said, and Biden does not have a record of scrupulous honesty.
Many mainstream and lefty journalists will continue to cover it. The Reade accusation is unquestionably news, and outside of the right-wing press, there is still a broad ethic of covering stories even if they are politically inconvenient. It is not always honored, but it's still there. As The Intercept's Ryan Grim writes, "I decided early in my career that I would never suppress a story if the only reason I were doing so was concern about its political implications. If you do that, you're no longer a journalist."
However, Biden still has not been officially nominated. The Democratic National Convention is not until August 17, and before then he could be pressured into dropping out. If Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, a critical mass of the rest of other Democratic elected officials, and all the various Democratic-aligned activists groups all said in unison that Biden was unfit to be president, and should drop out for the good of the party, he probably would withdraw. The primary rules regarding candidates who drop out are somewhat vague, saying that delegates cannot be "mandated" to vote for someone else, and "shall in all good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them." But this would seem to allow Biden to instruct his delegates to support another candidate, and in 11 states there are specific rules for doing so. Realistically, no unclear legal technicalities are going to prevent someone else from getting the nomination if Biden refuses to take it.
Bernie Sanders would certainly be ruled out, despite the fact that he would have the second-most number of delegates. The entire point of the panicked scramble to endorse a clearly lousy candidate before Super Tuesday was to keep Sanders from winning. But it still could be somebody else — perhaps Washington Governor Jay Inslee, or California Governor Gavin Newsom, both of whom have handled the coronavirus pandemic relatively well (unlike New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose incompetent bungling created the worst outbreak in the world). Inslee or Newsom would not be my first choice, but at least they have no rape allegations against them and are in full possession of their faculties.
Or simpler still, as Alex Pareene suggests, Democrats could simply re-start the primary and see who wins. There would surely be some controversy, but most Democratic voters would wind up happier in the end.
Frankly, I cannot possibly believe this will happen. Democratic elites had no problem bending the rules to help Michael Bloomberg, or indeed sending their loyal voters out into the teeth of a viral pandemic to vote in person to put away Sanders. It is clearly within their power to send Biden packing. But they have neither the wisdom nor the foresight of the cynical party bosses of old, who would have thrown him out on his ear long ago.
Biden could also still win. Given the appalling economic conditions likely to prevail in November, a random person picked off the street would have a good chance of beating Trump. But still, if you are already exhausted at the prospect of months of arguments about whose sexual assault allegations are worse, the escape hatch is still open.
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