Over the past several days I have been playing out some game theory on how Joe Biden can best address the increasingly ominous allegations of sexual assault he faces from Tara Reade. I put together a handful of options ranging from “I did it, please forgive me” to “I have no idea who this woman is.” None of the options mustered more than a D-plus on my grading scale.
One of the problems for Biden is how similar his situation is politically to that Brett Kavanaugh faced during his Supreme Court nomination process. Reade’s claims have far more corroboration than Christine Blasey Ford’s, but aside from the very different amounts of evidence for the allegations, the basic contours of the cases seem similar. An alleged sexual encounter in the distant past brought up just in time to derail a powerful man’s greatest ambition in life. Kavanaugh survived. So what can Biden learn from that?
It is important to remember that for a very good period of time during the Kavanaugh affair the conventional wisdom was that his nomination would not survive. A few factors saved it, including President Trump’s resolve on the matter, but chief among them was the tone Kavanaugh struck when it came his time to testify.
It was supposed to be a very delicate situation for the nominee. Everyone assumed he would have to walk some fine line between maintaining his innocence and showing deference to his accuser and by extension all women. The trick, or so it was thought, would be to apologize without apologizing.
That is not what Kavanaugh did. Not by a long shot. Instead he came out like an un-caged tiger, visibly furious about the false allegations being made against him. He raised his voice, insisted that he was innocent, and throughout his statement and questioning kept up a righteous indignation that shocked some viewers. It was not what anyone expected.
And it was a very risky move. The immediate reaction from corporate media was quite negative, that he had come off overly defensive or unhinged. A new talking point grew out the testimony, that whether he was guilty or not he had proven he did not have the temperament needed for the highest court. But before too long, the risk started paying off.
What was soon discovered is that for many American women seeing Kavanaugh defend himself so strenuously put them in mind of the men in their own lives. Could they too be taken down by a claim with no direct evidence? Would “believe all women” mean that their sons, husbands, or brothers could face this treatment?
In the end, a lot of Americans of both sexes came to the conclusion that Kavanaugh’s anger was justified and suggested his innocence. This was not entirely without precedent; in his confirmation hearings Clarence Thomas faced down claims of sexual harassment by calling the proceeding a “high-tech lynching.” One of the senators swayed by this argument was Joe Biden.
It turns out that the natural thing to do when accused of a heinous act that you did not commit is to be pissed off about it. If you aren’t pissed off, it looks a little weird. Kavanaugh gave the Senate and the nation absolute honesty, and that included his emotions. It might well have saved him.
It’s possible that indignation may be the best option for Old Scranton Joe, but if it was dangerous for a Republican-selected Supreme Court nominee, it’s likely downright atomic toxic for a Democrat running for president. It’s very possible that the majority of Democrats would support Biden saying, “I didn’t do it and it makes me furious.” But there is a significant wing of the party, overrepresented in the press, to whom this would be unforgivable. It may also be more difficult to conjure up if Biden is not, like Kavanaugh, assured of his own innocence.
Whoever he chooses, like Burt Parks, to be Ms. Vice President will already be facing an uphill climb based on the credible nature of the allegation. To make her defend Biden lashing out at his accuser is a lot to ask, even for these very ambitious and accomplished women. Perhaps the playbook Biden needs is Bill Clinton’s from 1992.
Do a softball “60 Minutes” interview, try to avoid any heavy overhead cameras falling on Jill Biden, but show a united marital front at a difficult time. This is by far the most likely scenario, but it’s still the D-plus. At a time his biggest job is to bring far-leftists into his establishment tent, the lingering story of Tara Reade is becoming a massive obstacle.