Joe Biden’s critics on both the left and the right have turned repeatedly to the Brett Kavanaugh case as their prism for understanding Tara Reade’s charges of sexual assault. The parallel has many problems. On the one hand, the accusation that Biden committed assault in his 40s is more disqualifying than the charge Kavanaugh did so as a teen. On the other hand, Kavanaugh reduced his credibility by embellishing his denial with a series of transparent falsehoods about yearbook references to sex, drinking, and mocking local girls. And as Michelle Goldberg points out, Reade presents both less corroboration than Christine Blasey Ford (whose documentation included notes from her therapist) and more grounds for credible doubt, especially Reade’s coordinating her statements with Bernie Sanders supporters to maximize their political impact. As Goldberg argues, if Ford had written anything like Reade’s tweet anticipating that her charge would help Sanders defeat Biden (“Yup. Timing … wait for it … tick tock”), Democrats would have fled her cause en masse.
The most important problem with the parallel is the remedy. Kavanaugh’s Democratic critics had a straightforward response: President Trump should withdraw the nomination of Kavanaugh, leaving him in his position as federal judge, and nominate a different Federalist Society–groomed jurist who, ex ante, could be expected to produce the same number of lifetime legal wins for the Republican Party.
The demand against Biden is far more extravagant: His critics demand Democrats push their nominee out of the race and choose a new one. A chorus of left-wing voices — Elizabeth Bruenig (New York Times), Alex Pareene (The New Republic), Ryan Cooper (The Week), and Lyz Lenz (the Washington Post) — have rallied behind this demand.
I should note that my disagreement with these writers does not lie principally over how we evaluate the truth of Reade’s charge. All of them describe the accusation as credible, but not close to certain. “No one — save Ms. Reade and Mr. Biden — knows with certainty whether her claims are true,” writes Bruenig. “It can’t be dismissed out of hand,” writes Cooper. Pareene describes Biden as “a man you now suspect may have done something terrible.” Lenz states Biden “stands credibly accused of sexual misconduct,” but simply proceeds from conceding the uncertainty of the evidence to recommending a guilty verdict: “Anyone who has been assaulted knows that there is never a credible enough witness, never enough proof. Biden should be investigated and replaced.”
Putting aside Lenz’s strange claim that there’s “never enough proof” — many powerful men have been brought down by far more proof than has been brought against Biden; Donald Trump was caught confessing on tape! — their characterization of the level of doubt is broadly fair. The charges against Biden are credible (as is his denial.) I do suspect he may have done something terrible, though I don’t know.
Here’s the devilish thing about this Schrödinger’s cat scenario. In the version of reality in which Biden did assault Reade, we can at least debate the justice of throwing him off the ticket. In the version of reality in which he didn’t assault her, it would be a serious miscarriage of justice.
All the writers now urging this were fervent Biden opponents during the primary. None of them seem to have considered that the overwhelming majority of Democrats who voted for him might be upset over denying the nominee they picked over something he may or may not have done in 1993. Indeed, none of them seem even remotely troubled at the prospect of the party elite functionally disenfranchising its own electorate.
The point at which their argument gets around to the question of replacing the hated Biden is where the mechanics of their proposal break down completely. Replacing Kavanaugh was straightforward. He was selected by a single person. Biden was nominated by a lengthy, almost absurdly complex, and essentially democratic process.
How would Democrats choose a nominee after they have somehow muscled Biden into stepping down? “Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, and Amy Klobuchar could unsuspend their campaigns,” muses Pareene. “Or some of them could choose, just as they chose to throw their support to Biden, to endorse a well-qualified also-ran they believe deserves another shot, such as Jay Inslee or Julián Castro.”
Cooper proposes some kind of backroom deal to pick a governor — “perhaps Washington Governor Jay Inslee, or California Governor Gavin Newsom.” Lenz is even more agnostic: “Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) could revive his campaign; other candidates could leap back in; party leaders might recruit a Democratic governor who has handled the coronavirus pandemic well. There are many options.” Breunig simply leaves it to Democrats to figure out a plan, without even attempting to summarize what that might be. (“Democrats need to begin formulating an alternative strategy for 2020 — one that does not include Mr. Biden” is her recommendation in its entirety.)
In other words, the progressives who want to force Biden off the ticket have given almost no thought to what would happen next, and what few ideas they have floated are in contradiction with each other. The replacement should either be a former candidate, or somebody who didn’t run, and they should either be picked by the remaining voters or by the party. Oh, and remember, there’s also an ongoing pandemic, which means there can’t be more campaigning and might not be an in-person convention. Good luck!
Had Reade told her story several months earlier, Democratic voters might have chosen a different nominee. In the meantime, the only mechanism to pick the nominee that is either practical or legitimate is the process we had: the actual votes of Democrats, who very clearly and deliberately decided to nominate Joe Biden.