It seems like ever since Trump’s surprise victory in 2016 there has been speculation about Joe Biden running for president in 2020. It’s now 2019; he leads lots of important polls, and it seems to many that the Democratic nomination is his to lose. So, why hasn’t he officially jumped in yet? There are plenty of theories. I’ve heard some say he’s holding out for the already crowded field of 2020 Democrats to destroy each other in a pecking party, after which he can swoop in as the party’s 2020 savior. Others suggest it’s a question about his legacy. As I’ve written before, Biden’s repeatedly underwhelmed as a presidential candidate, and ending his time in the public sector as vice president is a far better legacy than losing his party’s nomination for the third time.
At this point, Biden is at the top of his game, and despite polls showing him a formidable contender for the Democratic nomination, and potentially for president in the general election, Hillary was seen as a shoo-in for her party’s nomination in 2008, and as a shoo-in for president in 2016. Biden may be more likable than Hillary, but polls this far out won’t reflect the realities of the political landscape a year from now. I’ve long suspected that Biden could be hesitating to officially jump in because of his touchy-feely reputation.
Yesterday, my theory felt a lot closer to the truth when Lucy Flores, the 2014 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor of Nevada, came forward with her story of Biden acting inappropriately with her before a campaign rally.
Just before the speeches, we were ushered to the side of the stage where we were lined up by order of introduction. As I was taking deep breaths and preparing myself to make my case to the crowd, I felt two hands on my shoulders. I froze. “Why is the vice-president of the United States touching me?”
I felt him get closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified. I thought to myself, “I didn’t wash my hair today and the vice-president of the United States is smelling it. And also, what in the actual fuck? Why is the vice-president of the United States smelling my hair?” He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn’t process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused. There is a Spanish saying, “tragame tierra,” it means, “earth, swallow me whole.” I couldn’t move and I couldn’t say anything. I wanted nothing more than to get Biden away from me. My name was called and I was never happier to get on stage in front of an audience.
According to a spokesman for Biden, the former vice president “does not recall” the incident. This is interesting language because when one says they “do not recall” they are saying they could have done what has been alleged. We’ve heard politicians, especially those with law degrees, respond with the same language to avoid being accused of lying when their story falls apart. I recall vividly the Kavanaugh hearings when Brett Kavanaugh testified regarding the allegations made against him by Christine Blasey Ford. Under penalty of felony, Kavanaugh didn’t say “I do not recall” the incident Ford described, he said it didn’t happen. Joe Biden couldn’t even say that the incident with Flores didn’t happen as described. In response to the Biden statement, Flores said that Biden may legitimately not be able to remember the incident: “I would argue that he is so used to behaving in that way that it is no big deal.”
That may very well be true. It doesn’t take an internet sleuth to find evidence of Joe Biden, as vice president of the United States, inappropriately touching women and even young girls, at public events. Vox reported yesterday that it “is no secret in Washington that Biden has touched numerous women inappropriately in public. It’s just never been treated as a serious issue by the mainstream press.”
Biden’s been caught on camera embracing a female reporter from behind and gripping her above her waist, just below her bust. At a swearing-in ceremony for Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Biden put his hands on the shoulders of Stephanie Carter, Carter’s wife, and then leaned in and whispered into her ear. (He’s whispered into many women’s ears.) He’s also touched women’s faces and necks during other photo ops. Once at a swearing-in ceremony for a US senator, he held the upper arm of the senator’s preteen daughter, leaned down and whispered into her ear, as she became visibly uncomfortable. Then he kissed the side of her forehead, a gesture that made the girl flinch.
What the press shrugged off before they likely won’t do so again if Biden jumps into the 2020 race. Does Joe Biden want to be remembered as Barack Obama’s VP or the guy whose third attempt at a run for president was thwarted by the #MeToo movement? As much as I would argue that being Obama’s Number Two is no badge of honor, I suspect the history books will look more fondly on that than the alternative. There’s no chance that presidential candidate Biden will get away with his past inappropriate behavior. The media will have a harder time writing it off as “Joe being Joe.” Should Biden officially jump into the race, it is safe to say that other women will come forward with their stories. Is he really the guy Democrats want to face Trump in 2020? I doubt it.
Joe Biden needs to think long and hard about what to do about this election. Is it worth running for president and risking his legacy going down in flames?
Matt Margolis is the author of The Scandalous Presidency of Barack Obama and the bestselling The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. His new book, Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy, will be published in 2019. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis