vision 2020

Will Candidates for Biden’s VP Shortlist Defend Him From Reade Allegations?

Most veep possibilities are in no position to maintain social distancing from Biden and his issues. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Believe them or not, Tara Reade’s allegations of sexual assault against presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden are about to become very visible, even in a political environment dominated by the coronavirus pandemic and blinkered by Democratic longing for a united front against the evil king in the White House. According to New York Times’ media critic Ben Smith (in a column questioning the reluctance of network TV to interview her — itself a sign of how quickly her story is now, after a considerable delay, going mainstream), Reade is in final negotiations for an appearance on Fox News this coming weekend. Though all conservative and a few progressive media outlets have been flogging the story heavily of late, the millions of eyeballs that may now see Reade as she tells her tale will elevate her allegations exponentially.

That this explosive development will coincide with Biden’s “veepstakes” process, already limited to women, creates a particularly complicated situation for the potential candidates, as my colleague Rebecca Traister noted earlier this week:

[P]art of what’s sickeningly clear is that if Biden remains the Democratic nominee, whichever woman gets the nod to be his running mate will wind up drinking from a poisoned chalice. Because the promise to choose a woman ensures that whoever she is, she will be forced to answer — over and over again — for Biden’s treatment of other women, including the serious allegations of assault leveled by Tara Reade.

And if media types don’t try to force these answers, Tara Reade clearly will, as evidenced by her suggestion that veep hopefuls who look the other way will be “complicit to rape” and her claim that Hillary Clinton in endorsing Biden was “enabling a sexual predator.”

So what’s a veep hopeful to do?

Despite the growing focus on Reade’s allegations, the odds remain very low that anyone other than Joe Biden will be on the ballot in November as the Democratic nominee. Even working through the hypothetical process necessary to change that fact-on-the-ground (as I have done) will make your head hurt. At the moment, moreover, Biden’s looking like a good bet to win in November, between his current poll standing and the strong possibility that COVID-19 and the economy will be a double millstone around Trump’s neck.

If you are a woman on Biden’s radar screen who would like to serve as President of the United States, are you ever likely to get a better chance than being royally designated the successor to a 77-year-old man whose ambitions don’t seem to reach too far beyond November? Four years as president-in-waiting wouldn’t be so bad: as Bob Dole once joked when asked why he wanted to be vice-president: “It’s an inside job with no heavy lifting.” And in the remote possibility Joe Biden’s loses his grip on the top spot on the ticket — or on the presidency itself later on — the big job could fall into the lap of his Chosen One, who could break that last glass ceiling without the long march that Hillary Clinton endured.

But assuming Biden has no particular reason to move more quickly on choosing a running-mate than his predecessors (who have almost all waited until the eve of the national party convention), the obligation to serve as The Boss’s defender-in-chief against Reade won’t begin with the phone call from Uncle Joe offering her the gig, but far earlier. It’s now likely that publicly addressing the allegations will be part of, and perhaps the central part of, every aspirant’s public audition for the 2020 ticket.

That could be more difficult for some wannabes than others, as Politico’s Marc Caputo notes:

It’s a particularly vexing problem for [those who] played lead roles in opposing the Senate confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. Democrats vigorously applied a “believe all women” standard as they rallied to support his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, leaving a trail of unambiguous statements at sharp odds with the role they’ll need to play for Biden in a general election….

Few are in a more potentially awkward position than California Sen. Kamala Harris, who used the [Kavanaugh] hearings as a springboard to her own presidential campaign and made clear she believed Ford’s accusations in 2018.

I’m sure Harris is capable of explaining why she believed Ford but doesn’t believe Reade, but explaining it over and over again, world without end, to hostile progressive and conservative media, won’t be a treat. And for all the criticism Stacey Abrams has already received for bluntly siding with Biden against Reade, it’s hard to imagine a more nuanced way of dealing with it that would pass muster with Team Biden. As Traister noted, the Woman-Who-Would-Be-Veep can’t have it both ways:

[W]e do not have a system or culture in the United States that would permit a running mate to say, “I am deeply troubled by the allegations persuasively leveled against my running mate, Joe Biden, and wish we didn’t live in a world in which we had to choose between an accused rapist and self-confessed pussy grabber versus an accused harasser who’s now been credibly accused of assault, but this is what white capitalist patriarchy does and I’m actually here to try to change that!”

Perhaps some veep prospects will take a long look at what’s in store for them and like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, say “let this cup pass from me.” More likely they’ll do what it takes and hope that Reade’s claims gradually sink into the sticky goo of a thousand right-wing attacks on Biden, some possibly credible, but none carrying more weight with voters than awful specter of four more years of President Trump.

Will Candidates on Biden’s VP Shortlist Defend Him?