Biden’s Indeciveness Costing Him
The peril of not yet running for President include not yet having a campaign staff in place.
Yesterday morning, I noted that Joe Biden was drawing fire from multiple angles, including a history of inappropriately touching women and a long voting record in discord with the zeitgeist of the current Democratic Party. Edward-Isaac Dovere argues that he’s being caught flat-footed.
Politics abhors a vacuum, and Joe Biden has left one for months. So it’s getting filled without him—and not in a way that is likely to help if he decides to run for president.
Biden has teased and toyed with the idea, in public and in private. He’s talked about how close he is to getting in by percentages, slowly ratcheting it up. A few aides have gone further, saying he’s as certain as 95 percent, calling up donors and trying to nudge them into early commitments and spots on what would be his finance committee.
But still, nothing. He says his family wants him to run. Some close supporters have been told in recent weeks that, after his aides had telegraphed that he’d wait until the first week or two of April to announce a decision so that he could slip just past the March 31 first-quarter fundraising deadline, now he might wait until after Easter. That’s April 21. Three more weeks. At least.
So, observers ask: Is there some scandal that he’s afraid will pop? Is he afraid to lose? Does he not really have the fire in the belly to do it? Is he demonstrating how his age and mentality might not be the right fit for either a presidential campaign or the presidency? All those questions are going around. One prominent elected official told me about simultaneously assuming that Biden’s about to make the leap based on the public reporting and still feeling completely confused by the apparent delays.
People who assume they’d work on a Biden campaign have been stuck wondering whether they will in fact be offered jobs, what those jobs might be, when they’d be expected to start, and how much they’d be paid, not knowing when or whether they’re going to have to uproot their lives.
It’s obvious now that the work they’re not doing is taking a toll.
Indeed. While one could argue that it’s completely insane that the race for an election that won’t be held for twenty months is already well underway, them’s the facts. And, while Biden’s long track record and the warmth in which he’s regarded by many has him as the early frontrunner, the fact is that others are already putting together staffs, courting the press, and making subtle attacks on Biden. And he’s still on the sidelines.
And, inevitably, the dam finally broke Friday night with the flood of #MeToo stories and the rather obviously coordinated attacks on Biden’s progressive credentials that could have been made any time “coincidentally” hitting at the same moment.
Biden supporters were a mix of exasperated and expecting it. Biden has a long-established reputation for his touchy-feely ways. There are supercuts online of him at the ceremonial swearings-in of senators, rubbing shoulders, nuzzling, making comments to teenage girls about how they can’t date until they’re 30. Even if the behavior is not intended to be sexual, it can come off as creepy—especially in the context of the larger cultural shift under way in America—particularly to people who want it to come off creepy, and not, as one defender put it to me, as the actions of a man who is a “human golden retriever.”
That’s not an argument that the Biden campaign was making proactively, because there is no Biden campaign to make an argument proactively—even as everyone else in the race and every reporter covering the race treats him like it’s only a matter of time until everyone gets on the Amtrak to Delaware to see him declare.
Here’s how an incident such as the Flores story might have played out, had there been a Biden campaign in place, in ways that are standard in presidential politics though rarely discussed publicly: Potentially even before the story ran but certainly as soon as it did, reporters covering the campaign closely would have heard from an aide, offering rebuttals and context. Maybe the aide would have pointed out that Flores was a prominent Bernie Sanders supporter in 2016, and a board member of his allied group Our Revolution until resigning last year, or that she spent Saturday morning in El Paso at the kickoff rally for Beto O’Rourke. Maybe the aide would have helped connect reporters with people who were also there that day at the Latino Victory Project event in Las Vegas, several of whom have been talking with one another since the story ran and questioning whether what Flores wrote could be true, because she was never alone with Biden, according to one of the people who’s been in the discussions.
Or maybe a Biden campaign would have fought the publication of the essay in the first place, arguing that it was obviously radioactive politically but impossible to fact-check. Or it might have pointed to pictures that exist online of Biden with his face in Longoria’s hair at that same event, and insisted that this was proof he is just a well-meaning nonstop nuzzler.
The response was a written statement after Flores’s piece ran. “Neither then, or in the years since, did he or his staff with him at the time have an inkling that Ms. Flores had been at any time uncomfortable, nor do they recall what she describes,” read the statement from the Biden spokesman Bill Russo. “But Vice President Biden believes that Ms. Flores has every right to share her own recollection and reflections, and that it is a change for better in our society that she has every opportunity to do so.”
Most importantly, if Biden were running already, he and his campaign would probably be on the campaign trail, talking about whatever they wanted to talk about, and taking up at least some of the attention and coverage for themselves. But Biden’s not in Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina this weekend. He’s out of the public eye entirely, and all the stories are out there, generating secondary and tertiary stories of their own.
Now, I happen to think that both lines of attack launched on Biden are likely to be fatal, simply because they’re true.
While my sense of Biden’s serial touching is that they’re more in line with the old man not quite getting that times have changed of the late George H.W. Bush and well short of the creepy power plays of Donald Trump or Louis C.K., they’re also much more egregious than the acts that brought down Al Franken. I don’t see how he survives contact with the Democratic nominating electorate on this front.
And that’s especially true when his long voting record comes back to haunt him. In many cases, it could be argued that he was simply responding to the unique demands of his Delaware constituency and positioning himself for a Presidential run in a much different national political environment. But he’s out of touch with the modern party. That’s going to happen when you’ve been in national politics for nearly half a century.
Beyond all that, Biden’s indecisiveness with regard to this run is also troubling on the leadership front. He played this game in 2016, too, but at least there he had the incredibly good excuse that his son, Beau, had just died and he just could get himself emotionally ready for the race. But that’s not the issue this time. Recognizing that a nearly-two-year campaign is a daunting undertaking, the very nature of the job is making hard decisions. Quickly. Repeatedly.