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.
Biden was 72 when he grabbed and nuzzled Stephanie Carter and 73 when he mauled Lucy Flores. He wasn’t so ancient that his behavior could be excused on the grounds of senility or dementia.
I know what you’re trying to say James but boy, was that ham handed. 😉
Well said James. I’ve always liked Biden but I’ve come to the conclusion that he is simply not leadership material and is more effective as a second. This dates back to his leaving the campaign trail in’87 because of the plagiarism charges. Every candidate is going to face black marks and they have to be able to get past them. The fact that his reaction was to give up and go home was not a good sign. He is reinforcing that negative impression every day.
I read these attacks on Biden and remember why, for most of my adult life, I was an Independent who only voted Democrat.
That said, I’d like to see Biden remain permanently on the sidelines. His generation has had its time, and I’ve no stomach for imagining eight more years of what already stinks of a gerontocracy. History might well look back at and see nothing but an unbroken string of failures committed by the American Left stretching from Reagan to Trump. It’s time for some fresh blood.
One of the things about this situation that somewhat amazes me is the lack of preparation by Biden to deal with it. Anyone who has been paying attention had to know that some conversation about Biden’s overly friendly ways was going to come up, to one degree or another, in a #MeToo kind of way.
It was inevitable.
From what I’ve read from people that had met Biden and from TV appearances Biden has a pretty expansive corporal language. It’s easy to confuse that with harassment, specially because unlike Italians or people in Latin America Americans does not have a expansive corporal language (Brazilians, for instance, have a lot of touching when they are simply meeting with acquaintances).
I don’t know because I’ve never met Biden, I’m not a woman and I’m from a culture where some touching when meeting people can be look normal(Specially for politicians in campaign). Even if I think that there is clear distinction between a person that makes inappropriate compliments and a harasser.
On the other hand thirty and two years ago Biden was already running for President and being the Chair of one of the most powerful Committees in Senate, he is a pretty effective surrogate(No one calls Dick Cheney or Dan Quayle to any campaign rally). He had his chance in the past, he would not be an effective president and his candidacy would destroy his effectiveness as a surrogate.
In light of these allegations, maybe Biden could run for the GOP nomination? 😉
@Kathy: But has he grabbed anyone by the pussy?
@Andre Kenji de Sousa: The difference in culture is real. I lived for two years in West Africa and the first time a male friend held my hand it was all I could do not to snatch it away. In fact I probably really reacted the way Flores claimed to feel. Why “claimed? Well this is where the rubber hits the road. My 21 year old daughter says women never lie about “these things”, but my life experience tells me that although rare, it does happen. And Flores was an official on Bernie’s last campaign and that operations ruthless efficiency in smearing their opponents is legendary. Just look at what happened a month or so ago with the Kamala Harris slut shaming. It spread everywhere in just 24 hours. Heck, a couple of Bernie fans even brought it up in the comment section of OTB. That was obviously a highly coordinated effort, and I find it hard to believe none of the female Bernie officials knew what was going on.
I’m a midwestern guy raised in an Irish family so I am pretty much the living definition of physically reserved. Biden’s physicality has always made me uncomfortable but until I hear that he propositioned or groped someone I’m going to withhold judgement.
But from a political POV, it seems to me all of this is just a political liability that will not go away.
To be clear: I think this is true even with the most innocent interpretation of his behavior.
I am much more bothered by Biden’s record on legislation restricting abortion access. He has a record, and it’s too big an issue in today’s Democratic party.
(See the link I posted yesterday to the LGM discussion of a NYMag piece).
(Anita Hill is old news by now, but it doesn’t help).
@Kit: Sorry to tell you this, but “our time” will not be over until you wrench it from our grasping hands by force.
Update: New piece (with linkies) at LGM:
He has other votes for abortion restrictions too.
Franken was grabbing butts and boobs. There were 8 credible accusers. Eh, 6 credible, and probably 2 not so credible. Franken looked at this, looked at his own behavior and what was likely to come out, and resigned.
Biden is, as the one article states, a human golden retriever. He gets in people’s space, he’s buddy-buddy with the guys, he leans in close and smells the women’s hair. He doesn’t touch anyone in an explicitly sexual way. With 7.3 billion encounters over his lifetime, there are a smattering who feel violated. Some people don’t like golden retrievers either.
I’m not going to say Biden’s behavior is good, or even acceptable. It’s a little weird. Make of it what you will. (I think Biden is someone who through sheer force of being charming, can enter personal space in a way others cannot, and 99.9% of the time it’s not a violation, and that other 0.1% of the time it gets excused by everyone other than the person it happened to, and often by that person too, as just being how Joe Biden is)
But don’t minimize Franken’s offense.
Franken still pisses me off. He knew better, and he did it anyway. Maybe he thought he was being funny, grabbing butts at photo ops because who would expect that (the most generous explanation), but he knew better and did it anyway. One of the big takeaways from his book “Al Franken: Giant of the Senate” is that he had to earn not to make joes that others would see offensive because he was under a spotlight where things were being magnified.
Al Franken hurt himself, all of his supporters and all of the things he was trying to accomplish.
(He also annoyed some women — they seem to have gotten on with their lives, so I don’t really want to use the word hurt.)
@Steven L. Taylor:
There are people who would do very poorly if they had to explain themselves and their behavior to an HR department, even though it’s all basically innocent. Joe Biden is one of them.
HR is professionally offended. It’s literally their job to be offended before other people are.
There’s very clearly a coordinated attack on Biden, using the professionally offended framing of his behavior, and a cherry picked selection of his past positions.
(If this all gets traced back to Gillibrand The Frankenslayer, then she has my vote for being as vicious as everyone says, in an era where we need a bit of vicious.)
@Gustopher: My point is that the HR bit was bound to happen, and someone was going to mount a full attack (and likely in the primary). Plus, it was going to come from the press.
That he wasn’t ready for it is not a good sign in terms of his ability to proceed.
I will grant such stuff is common these days, but do you have some basis this might not just be pack journalism or viral meme type thing?
@charon: No hard evidence, but the number of distinct issues he is being attacked on, from such a wide array of people, strongly suggests it is not spontaneous. Pack journalism would take one issue and run with it. We have desegregation, abortion, bankruptcy, Anita Hill and hairsniffing, all at once. And I feel like I am missing several, and that I am lumping three or more things under abortion. It’s a wide enough range of issues that everyone following on finds something that they really care about.
Mushy on abortion? How about this choice quote from Anita Hill that it’s a running joke in her house that when the doorbell ring unexpectedly, maybe it’s Joe Biden coming to apologize… oh, but it never is.
Discount his hair sniffing as human golden retriever? Well, listen to what he had to say about desegregation. He really is twenty years behind the times on social issues and he always has been. And didn’t he call Obama “clean and articulate”?
None of that ringing your bell? Well, how about when he was Sen. Joe Biden (D-MBNA). He represented the credit card industry more than the people of Delaware.
Maybe I’m just being optimistic, but this was really well done.
Plus the Stacy Abrams self-own. But that’s classic Biden. (and I like Biden!)
I want someone to step out from behind the curtain and give a bow or a curtsy. If the staff who orchestrated this do not end up helping our eventual nominee, that will be a shame.
I joke about it being Gillibrand, because so many people are angry about her role in Al Franken groping women, disgracing himself, and resigning to be replaced by another Democrat. But, if Gillibrand was capable of that, why wouldn’t we want her as the nominee?
(I donated money to help elect Al Franken, and I feel like he betrayed me)
I enjoyed this sentiment someone posted at LGM, unfortunately na ga hoppen:
Have you considered the possibility the human mind is evolved to see patterns, sometimes people see patterns (conspiracies) that are not really there?
Maybe it’s as simple as there are just a lot, a lot of people who really really would like the nominee to be not-Joe? As you enumerate, there are lots of strikes against him beyond elderly white guy which is not currently in fashion, we already have one as President.
And on the subject of Gillibrand The Frankenslayer, she is vulnerable on a lot of the cherry-picking her votes type issues.
She represented a pretty conservative district in the House as a pretty moderate Democrat, a few steps to the left of her district, but not enough to put herself in constant jeopardy. She shifted left a ot as Senator, when her constituents changed to also include NYC.
People bash her for being an opportunistic flip flopper, but I think of it as her actually representing her constituents, while being a bit to the left. I think it bodes well for what a Gillibrand presidency might be. I don’t want a president that only represents their base, even if I am that base.
Indeed I’m tired of the spoiled generation that has fcked this country and destroyed opportunities for the newer generations. I’m also pretty sure millennials are getting tired of being called lazy terrible people because they inherited a mess from the boomers and crew.
It’s time for someone who isn’t +70 to take the reins of this country and start fixing it. That’s one of the reasons why I’m supporting Pete Buttigieg.
Like Steven said Biden should of been prepared for this and he’s clearly not. Trump would destroy Biden in an election if this continues.
@charon: Maybe a bunch of reporters were working on different Biden stories, then decided that the tide was turning so they better get their story out now while it’s still relevant.
But we haven’t seen that happen to anyone else in any Presidential primary I remember. Or general campaign.
Maybe Biden’s campaign leaked their own opposition material on him to attempt to inoculate him from all these attacks (that really would be so Biden). Or Jill Biden just wants her husband to stay home and finally finish refinishing the cabinets.
But the most likely explanation is someone putting together bullet points and talking points on a half dozen Biden stories and then distributing them to friendly reporters. And that someone is great.
Except this is not obscure stuff turned up by oppo research, like the Virginia situation with the high school yearbooks. Anita Hill and MBNA are well known stories. I didn’t know about the anti-abortion voting, but his voting record is not hard to find. So when he gets hit with a negative story, it seems natural to me that people would mention his other well-known or obvious negatives.
What difference would it even make if the info release were coordinated, the stories are what they are, so what?
OT: This is my personal anomalous belief (I have supporting logic/evidence) but I think Poppy Bush would have been reelected sans Anita Hill.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Exactly what I’ve been saying. In my lifetime no one has made it to the presidency without serious skeletons surfacing. The winner is able to deal with them. Elizabeth Warren is a textbook example of how not to deal with something. One more speech, one more explanation isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. It just keeps the news cycle going. You have to give the reporters something else to ask you about. That isn’t going to be policy. You have to attack someone.
Front-runners get attacked. I don’t like it, but then I also don’t like gravity all the time. He should have pushed the Biden speculation zone earlier so all this could come out and be absorbed and digested within the party. Now we’re under three months out from the first debate and whether he has time to spin his way out of this, I don’t know. Everyone’s waiting for him to jump in and he gets hit and hit hard, while still dithering. Just like Amy Klobuchar. It’s not good. You don’t want the enemy to attack while you’re still putting on your boots.
I’m a believer in human development, in redemption and second chances, because otherwise everyone is locked in battles set largely in the past, and then we’re Serbia. We’re supposed to be a forward-looking, optimistic country. We live in the future. So we should either get up a truth commission and go full South Africa and rake everything out in public, or we might consider raising the outrage bar a bit. Just enough so that more than 2% of humans can clear it.
If the bar is set at anything and everything, then the only people who can survive the purge are successful hypocrites and accomplished liars. All have sinned and fall short, as oh, I’m going to guess either Shakespeare of the Bible said. People are not capable of perfection. Clearly we are developing new standards, and that’s good and natural. But do we have to turn it up to 11 so that we sit over here on the Left and arrange the usual circular firing squad while the other guys are marching with swastikas? Can we maybe leave a few less-than-saintly soldiers on the field?
For whatever reason, Harris has not penetrated my media bubble to any significant extent. I know she supports some childcare thing, but as a single, childless, middle-aged liberal man, when I skimmed that headline, I said “sure” and didn’t look further. She smoked pot while listening to music, and may have been confused about what music at what time because (I’m just guessing here) she was high.
I don’t know if I am a weird outlier, and everyone else is getting all Harris all the time in their bubbles. I’m sure she’s a plausible, fine candidate despite the QAnon meme about her eating a live chicken, and apologizing if that triggers you. But until she is good enough at working the media that I know something about her, I have a hard time thinking of her as a real candidate. (Working the media is the main job of our nominee, for better or worse. Worse.)
I love Warren, I wish she were better at politics and controlling the narrative. I’m sure she would make an excellent president, but I’m not sure she would make a good nominee.
Similarly, I wish Gillibrand could find a way to stand out from the pack. I only know about her because I lived in New York for years, leaving a bit before she became Senator. I thought she was a terrible choice, and too conservative to represent the state as a whole, but she has really surprised me. I think she would tac to the right a bit from where she is in the general and as president, and cause the purity police a bit of heartburn. But I think she cares about smaller town middle America, and that this is a good thing. Less Bill-Clinton-style triangulation, more just putting their needs on the agenda.
I suspect our nominee will be Beto, because he is cool, and he pals around with reporters and the media like him. He would do. He would be adequate. I’d rather Warren or Gillibrand figure out the media thing, or Harris somehow became awesome and save us all, or Buttigieg became plausible, or…. well, Beto will be fine.
The difference is that someone is very good at their job. And I want that person on our team in the general election. And, assuming a base level of acceptability, the candidate who knows enough to recognize and hire people like that.
“Coordinated attack” sounds like a bad thing, but I’m all in favor of it.
In the polling I have seen, Harris is usually third behind only Sanders/Biden, neither of whom I think are viable in the long run. Booker and Warren and Beto are the others polling well, I think Beto is an empty suit with charisma but not much else.
I really like Gillibrand, I think she is very talented at politics, but it’s hard to back her when she is polling down with the other 1% people.
We disagree on that, I think such behavior is very Bernie and one of the reasons DJT is now President.
I think you really don’t understand the field of blackbirds in Kosovo in 1389, and how the Islamic invasion of Europe was stopped there, at a huge loss of Serbian blood. The Turks won the battle, but they could not go further. All of Europe was saved by the sacrifice of the Serbs. Also, the Croats were Nazis.
The Serbian country’s myths are loser myths. Literally, they lost and were occupied and they decided that was noble.
The United States just has better myths. “All men are created equal”, and a fight for freedom that continues to this day. Every schoolchild knows those words were written by a man who held slaves, and who didn’t fully live up to their own ideals. It’s absolutely a myth about winning and being better than you were a generation ago. Sometimes, we get close to living up to our myths.
The South has its own loser myth.
“When they go low we go high” doesn’t work. We need to go high and project a positive vision of what America can be, but we also need to kick them in the teeth.
“Turn the other cheek” just leaves you crucified.
Oh, I fully agree with that. The next general election will be really dirty and there will be a need to get into the mud.
The thing is, the Dem candidates know what happened in the Dem nomination process in 2016, and there is open agreement not to attack each other. Surreptitiously feeding oppo research to the press runs the risk of getting caught with damaging blowback. Better to just wait for/hope for unaffiliated parties to handle such stuff.
You should read the book he wrote as a Senator. He knew he had a lot of baggage because he has been in and written so many SNL and other comedy skits and many, many of them came from the “We need to be more outrageous!” era of television and comedy. This subject came up over and over again in the book and he came across as more than a bit surprised that he didn’t get hammered with it during his Senate election. I think he felt that comedians were given something of a pass, but we are in the era of the puritan thought police and one toe over the line and you are gone. I am speculating, but I think he looked to the future and saw Gillibrand and others publicly grilling him about his comedy skits and just decided he didn’t want to go through it. Can’t say I blame him.
I’m not sure where you are getting this from. I think Gustopher is absolutely right that way too many things hit from way too many reporters for this to be a coincidence. You mentioned in passing that this had Bernie stank on it and I agree he is the most likely. Not only because it’s his nature, but because there is a large section of the electorate that thinks he and Biden are too old and he can’t afford to let the remaining voters be split.
In fact, I would go so far to say that Biden letting Bernie do this kind of crap to him with nothing in response is part of what makes me think he’s not up to the job.
@charon: I will agree that I’m not much of a fan either, but we’re not in a “when they go low, we go high” era. We’re in a “when they put one of ours in the hospital, we put ten of their’s in the ground” time. The fact that DJT was elected is specifically the clue here. I don’t think the candidate with principles is going to win in this time and against the likely opponent. The Democratic candidate may not win at all if the economy doesn’t tank.
Is lying ok then? How about fabricating “fake news” stories? Repeating/circulating crazy stories on Facebook?
We can’t be playing softball, but the GOP will be doing stuff we should not. And damaging our own people in the primaries and nominating process not good either.
We do need to see that the skeletons get out of the closet, and people should not be able to skate with not, for example, revealing their tax returns.
Let’s not confuse what’s needed for the general election with how to pick a nominee, though. Apples v. oranges.
(Democratic primary voters are not Republicans, either – they won’t be preferring the bully who’s best at derogatory nicknames and bragging about his big penis).
@charon: Joltin’ Joe needs to get off the Democrats Apology Tour II bus*.
Biden has been apologizing for a few different things, including the Clarence Thomas – Anita Hill hearings; which most people have forgotten about some time ago, or have never heard of it.
These apologies make him look weak and indecisive. Maybe Biden might be doing this to get out front of possible criticisms. Why do these people start coming out about these things after all these years? Think about the timing. On the whole, none of these seem to be important enough to have him leave the race. I want to hear his ideas and proposals, not about something that happened three decades ago. I am not into looking at other peoples’ tax returns. As long as he followed the tax rules and code, I don’t have a problem with anyone taking advantage of tax strategies, deductions, and the advice of tax experts. I recall that some of his tax returns have been shown on some television news network. It turned out that he paid a higher tax percentage that Sanders and Obama. “Well, I guess that’s all there is” said the commentator that night. What we need to hear the candidates talking about is tax reform and some tax cuts for the middle class working people out here; instead of all these apologies.