Nobody is surprised that Republicans generally and Team Trump in particular are all over Tara Reade’s allegation of sexual assault against Trump’s presumptive November opponent Joe Biden. It couldn’t come at a much better time for the incumbent, who trails Biden in head-to-head polls nationally and in most battleground states, and is not doing very well in recent public assessments of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. It also fits in well with Trump’s long-planned reelection strategy of offsetting his unpopularity with savage negative attacks on his opponent, much as he did in 2016.
But there’s an interesting indirect approach to the Reade allegations that Republicans have been taking, as Amber Phillips of the Washington Post observes:
Rather than driving a conversation around about the specifics of the allegation — the corroborators, for example — Trump’s defenders appear to be lumping “Democrats,” “the media” and “Biden” together, and their main charge is hypocrisy rather than hyping up Reade’s accusation of sexual assault.
The “hypocrisy” in question is not how Democrats, the media, or Biden has addressed the many sexual misconduct accusations against Trump, but the “double standard” utilized in assessing Christine Blasey Ford’s 2018 claims that then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexual assaulted her when they were both in high school. GOP efforts to convince people to look back at the Kavanaugh hearings, and away from Trump, were made pretty apparent by a new Trump online ad, entitled “Exposed: Democrats’ double standard on believing women.” It has the added feature of drawing attention to Hillary Clinton’s recent endorsement of Biden:
Conservative media are repeating the “hypocrisy” attack line like cicadas, as illustrated by this angry editorial from National Review:
Given that the evidence is stronger in this case than it was in Kavanaugh’s — we know, at least, that the accuser and accused have met — we must ask why the same rules are not being applied in this instance. Joe Biden is hoping to be president of the United States. Might not a “cloud” follow him around, too? Biden has not only denied the charges categorically, but he has demanded that the press “diligently review” and “rigorously vet” them. What, when compared to his “I believe you” mantra, should this tell us about his character? Is a presidential election not a “job interview,” too? And if, as was the case in 2018, the venue of the alleged assault tells us a great deal about the likelihood of its veracity, might we expect to read a slate of pieces outlining what it was like to be a female intern in the Senate in the early 1990s?
The idea is to stipulate that the enemy-of-the-people liberal media, the Democratic senators who grilled Kavanaugh in the Judiciary Committee (which included veep prospects Harris and Klobuchar), and indirectly Biden, Clinton, and Me Too feminists, have all exposed themselves as partisan hacks who only “believe women” when it suits their purposes.
There is, of course a significant difference between the goal Democrats had in the Kavanaugh case of securing a serious investigation of Ford’s allegations (which the Trump administration shut down) and the alleged blind faith being attributed to them in retrospect, as Ian Millhiser points out:
But facts aside, the current incessant effort to compare Reade to Ford and Biden to Kavanaugh has a lot of advantages for Team Trump:
1. It revives a grievance that united Republicans and conservatives.
The supposed mistreatment of Kavanaugh was a powerful unifying force in the summer and fall of 2018, as Matt Lewis noted at the time:
The Kavanaugh hearing essentially radicalized Never Trumpers. Some—as part of the GOP base’s backlash against the left’s attacks—are coming home and supporting Trump. Others—perhaps because their hatred of Trump has only intensified—were pushed completely from the fold. This process has been going on for a long time, but one gets the sense that the fight over Kavanaugh was the end of the road.
In the mythology of MAGA, grassroots fury over the savaging of the poor little boy of privilege by the media and Democrats is what saved the Senate for Trump’s party in the midterms. So bringing it back up is a perfect tonic for the coronavirus-battered troops as November 2020 approaches.
2. It focuses attention on conspiratorial links between Democrats and the media.
In the minds of many conservatives, the Kavanaugh case dramatized something they already believed — that the mainstream media is just the chattering wing of the Democratic Party, whose protestations of objectivity are completely sham. Comparing the intense media attention Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations instantly secured to the manifest reluctance of the MSM to note, much less “believe,” Reade produces many “ahas” and belly laughs for conservatives.
3. It avoids any reckoning with the underlying facts, or with the Me Too movement.
Scorning Democrats’ or Biden’s “hypocrisy” rather than the the factual case surrounding the Reade allegations allows Republicans to have it both ways. Those who actually care about sexual misconduct by powerful men can feel grim satisfaction at fresh evidence the malady knows no political party. Those who have contempt for women like Reade, the MeToo movement, and feminism can enjoy the fact that this scourge the left has unleashed on the male population is now devouring its ideological allies. Nobody has to take a position on any of the underlying issues.
4. It keeps the controversy far from Donald J. Trump.
The president’s few forays into commentary on the Reade allegations have been clumsy and probably ill-advised, as Phillips notes:
Trump is in a difficult position in trying to take advantage of this: He has been accused of sexual misconduct, groping and harassment by more than a dozen women. One accused him of rape. Trump has denied all of these allegations.
On Thursday, Trump appeared to be defending Biden, offering that it could be a “false accusation.” He was more willing to go on the attack Friday when he said on a podcast that Reade “seems very credible.” But Trump also expressed sympathy for his political opponent. “As soon as you’re famous, you get accused,” he said.
The Kavanaugh comparison is much safer for Republicans than the Trump comparison, and the hypocrisy charge keeps the conversation conveniently far away from any direct comparison of Biden’s alleged pigginess with the louder and dirtier pigpen in which the president seems to have wallowed happily for much of his adult life.
If the Reade allegations tend to fade heading toward November, Republicans will do everything they can to keep them in the public eye, but they’ve already served their purpose of giving Trump’s fans another layer of delusive protection against what we know of the president’s character.