As it becomes increasingly likely that Joe Biden will launch a presidential campaign, the former vice president has come under fire from potential rivals and the woke elite faction of his own party (including Big Media). The woke hope to scare Biden out of entering the race or, barring that, to ensure he makes a bad first impression with voters. The ploy could not be more transparent, but it carries risks his critics may not fully appreciate.
The most severe blast to date is an accusation by Lucy Flores, who ran for lieutenant governor of Nevada in 2014. Flores claimed that at a campaign event, Biden “got closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified… He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head.”
Second- and third-tier 2020 candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro wasted no time in pouncing on the story. “I believe Lucy Flores,” Warren said, adding: “And Joe Biden needs to give an answer.” Castro believes Flores too. Neither would say it disqualifies Biden from running, of course; they are just raising questions.
As Edward-Issac Dovere notes at The Atlantic, there are questions to ask about the Flores claim, if not the ones Warren and Castro want asked. Among other things, Flores not only backed Bernie Sanders in 2016, but until 2018 sat on the board of Our Revolution, a group formed by Sanders’ top operatives to preserve his grassroots infrastructure in anticipation of a 2020 run.
Flores was also spotted at Beto O’Rourke’s first big campaign rally last weekend. In addition, others at the event at issue are questioning whether the incident occurred (although this may be confusion over the specifics of Flores’ accusation).
Notably, the thesis of The Atlantic article is that Team Biden hurt itself by not having more of a pre-campaign organization that could help mitigate and spin stories like this, which is true as far as it goes. But the idea is also too clever by half.
Apart from whether Biden kissed the back of Flores’ head, stories about Joe being handsy and smelling people’s hair are essentially the Kobayashi Maru no-win scenario for his candidacy. Had Team Biden pointed out Flores’ biases, or suggested her unprovable accusation was inaccurate, Biden’s opponents would have stretched the news cycle with stories about how it was proof Biden has learned nothing since the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas hearings, let alone the Me Too moment.
This is why Biden issued explanations, rather than an apology, about the incident. Any apology on this front would turn into a near-endless series of similar claims.
Indeed, in the post-Me Too era, the establishment media is probably going to be loath to raise questions about Flores, especially if she is a handy weapon in the campaign to stop Biden. Jake Tapper raised some of them.
To her credit, Flores admitted politics were the impetus for her coming forward. She added she found the Hill issue and Biden’s past pro-life stands to be problematic. Flores made it clear she considers Biden disqualified for a host of reasons.
Flores correctly notes Biden’s history of similar creepy behavior is well-established and previously was dismissed as an issue. It was particularly dismissed by her fellow Democrats (and the media), despite their claim to be the party of women’s rights. At the time, Biden’s space invasions were seen as just another eccentricity in wacky Uncle Joe’s repertoire.
Obviously, the Me Too moment has changed the seriousness with which everyone views such issues. But as far as anyone knows, Biden is no Harvey Weinstein, and Flores makes no such claim.
Barring the unforeseen, Biden’s antagonists will be left with a talking point undermined by Democrats’ past acceptance of inappropriate behavior by Biden and other Democrats. So the woke are not relying solely on Biden’s handsy work—which includes not only women, but children and at least one male state trooper—as a line of attack.
Rebecca Traister, writing at the same outlet that published Flores, recently laid out a full-spectrum dump of opposition research (whether she received it or compiled it is irrelevant here). She catalogues a litany of charges, including Biden’s opposition to forced busing, minimal pro-life sympathies, and defender of big banks. Even some of his achievements, like the Violence Against Women Act, are painted in patriarchal terms.
In Traister’s world: “Biden is the Democrats’ answer to the hunger to ‘make America great again,’ dressed up in liberal clothes. The New York Times‘ Jamelle Bouie has in fact argued that Biden’s racial politics have offered a form of Trumpism on the left, a ‘liberal cover to white backlash.’ To that I would add, he has provided liberal cover to anti-feminist backlash, the kind of old-fashioned paternalism of powerful men who don’t take women’s claims to their reproductive, professional, or political autonomy particularly seriously, who walk through the world with a casual assurance that men’s access to and authority over women’s bodies is natural. In an attempt to win back That Guy, Joe Biden has himself, so very often, been That Guy.”
The problem with the woke carpet-bombing campaign—aside from the question of whether much of it sticks—is that carpet-bombing eventually reaches the saturation point. If there were more nuclear charges, one might expect they would have been deployed. Once the woke have identified all the lines of attack on Biden, how are those attacks sustained through 2019 and into the actual primary season?
If Biden is a version of President Trump, the woke might consider Trump is president in part because he was willing to tough out any number of serious accusations against him and his campaign. Although the woke are empowered by the 24/7 outrage cycle on cable news and digital media, the incredible shrinking news cycle makes outrages more difficult to sustain in the face of a target willing to ignore them.
Just ask the top elected Democrats in Virginia, all of whom were expected to resign in the face of two blackface scandals and a claim of sexual assault. All three remain in office, and the stories seem like ancient history, despite having broken in mid-February. Outside the media—social and otherwise—riding out the storm often works.