Oh, how times have changed. In politics, it used to be the most experienced candidate with the most name recognition was often able to consolidate his or her party’s support for a presidential nomination. Clearly, that does not seem to be the case for former Vice President Joe Biden.
Biden would be the most well-known candidate if he officially decides to join the already crowded field of Democrats who have announced their run for the White House. The former senator and vice president would also be the most experienced of the lot.
Yet there seems to be a concerted effort to stop Joe Biden’s campaign before it even officially starts. And that effort may sink Democrats' chances of beating President Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
Biden has been at the center of claims that he inappropriately touched women over the years. Writer D.J. Hill appeared on “Fox News @ Night” Wednesday and said Biden made her feel "very uncomfortable" at a 2012 fundraiser when his hand slid from her shoulder and down her back as they posed for a photo.
In all, seven women have come forward with claims that Biden touched them inappropriately.
Biden released a video Wednesday explaining his conduct in general, but not focusing on specific allegations.
"In my career, I’ve always tried to make a human connection," Biden said. "That’s my responsibility, I think. I shake hands, I hug people, I grab men and women by the shoulders and say ‘you can do this.’ And whether they’re women, men, young, old, it’s the way I’ve always been. It’s the way I’ve tried to show I care about them and I’m listening."
“You know, social norms begin to change, they’re shifted and the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset and I get it. I get it," Biden added. "I hear what they’re saying. I understand it. And I’ll be much more mindful, that’s my responsibility. My responsibility and I’ll meet it."
Concerns have been raised that these allegations against Biden could be a distraction and set the wrong tone for Democrats in 2020.
Granted, it is never good politics to be stuck having to talk about something controversial or uncomfortable while trying to run for office. And the hardline stance Democrats have taken on sexual misconduct makes Biden’s potential candidacy more complicated in light of these recent stories.
Yet a number of women ranging from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to #MeToo champion and actress Alyssa Milano have come to Biden’s defense.
Each woman’s statement has a similar takeaway: Biden may be warm, animated or overly affectionate, but he is not a creep who is trying to willfully harass women. I met Biden a number of times over my career in public service and I share the sentiments of those who have come to his defense.
I want to be clear Biden does need to be more self-aware of how he interacts with people and should obviously avoid making people feel uncomfortable.
More importantly, should allegations of anything beyond being “creeped out” surface, Joe Biden should be held accountable no differently than anyone else. And in that event, he should not be the Democratic presidential nominee. Up to this point, I have not heard such charges. As Speaker Pelosi said, Biden’s issues thus far are not “disqualifying.”
So far Biden’s treatment is unique in this #MeToo era. Most of the media and a lot of Democratic women have not piled on. They have tried to explain his behavior. Maybe that is because Biden has been around for so long and is known by so many.
Still, Biden has a looming problem. The attacks on his conduct and his legislative record are not going away. The Democratic Party’s more progressive wing seems to be mounting a coordinated campaign to stop Biden by painting him as old and out of touch with today’s Democrats in the post #MeToo era.
The Biden battle is not entirely about the allegation of unwelcomed physical contact. It is more about eliminating someone who is perceived to be too moderate to carry the mantle of the 21st century Democratic Party.
Biden’s decades of votes on everything from guns to abortion are being held against him. His tenure as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is also being used as an example of how he did not respect women like Anita Hill, while his authorship of the Violence Against Women Act goes is rarely mentioned.
Placing his previous actions in the context of history is not just an insufficient excuse – it proves the point that some of Biden’s detractors are trying to make: Biden is a man of his time. That time has passed.
In the meanwhile, the slings and arrows coming from other Democrats may ultimately jeopardize the one thing they claim they want: to beat Donald Trump. A recent Monmouth University poll indicated that 56% of Democrats think it’s more important to nominate someone who can beat Trump than someone who aligns with their personal ideology. If this is true, Democrats should unify behind Joe Biden, who leads Trump in a head-to-head race 47% to 40% in polling.
These numbers should be helpful in making a case for Biden as the most electable. But we have to remember that the White House is still won through the Electoral College process. This means in order for Democrats to beat Trump, which is their main objective, they need to nominate someone who can win back the Midwest states that Hillary Clinton lost to Trump in 2016.
There are few Democratic candidates in the field right now who have the capability of competing in states like Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Joe Biden is one major exception.
Yes, Biden is not without his vulnerabilities. But Democrats need someone who can give Trump a run for his money in these states where the president’s approval rating is above 50%. Biden is one of the few who could.
If Democrats want to win in November, we cannot undermine the candidate who can beat Trump, no matter who emerges as that candidate.