Purely politically speaking, this couldn’t have come at a better time for President Trump: He’s currently behind in the polls to former vice president Joe Biden, and now Biden is having to deny a sexual assault allegation.
But instead of litigating his alleged action, the Trump campaign is emphasizing the hypocrisy they see in Biden’s words about whether to believe women.
Recall in 2016, Trump brought some of Bill Clinton’s accusers to a presidential debate against Hillary Clinton after the “Access Hollywood” tape showed Trump bragging about grabbing a woman’s genitals. He’s not afraid to go there.
By contrast, on Friday after Biden addressed the allegation publicly by saying it never happened, the Trump campaign put out a statement focusing more on what they called a double standard of Biden’s words than on the details of Reade’s claims.
The statement pointed out that in 2018, when Trump’s Supreme Court pick Brett M. Kavanaugh was being accused of sexual assault, Biden said this: “For a woman to come forward in the glaring lights of focus, nationally, you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real.”
When asked on MSNBC about how those comments match up with his current stance, Biden said that while the above is still true for him, he had a right to defend himself: “I’m not suggesting she had no right to come forward,” Biden said. “And I’m saying for any woman, they should come forward. They should be heard. And then it should be investigated. The truth matters, period.”
“He once again demonstrated that he believes he should be held to a different standard than he has set for others,” the Trump campaign responded. It was telling that this was one of the first sentences of the statement. They devoted a sizable chunk to trying to draw out a contrast between now and when Kavanaugh was accused. By contrast, they spent two sentences talking about the potential corroborators of Reade’s account. Then the rest of the statement was devoted to trying to whack Biden for transparency for not calling for a search of Tara Reade at his University of Delaware archives.
The campaign on Friday also put out an online attack ad titled “Exposed: Democrats’ double standard on believing women” and replaying Biden and other Democrats’ comments about Kavanaugh and other accused men.
Trump is in a difficult position here to try 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 actually appeared to actually defend Biden, offering that it could be a “false accusation.” He was a little more willing to go on the attack Friday when he said on a podcast that Reade “seems very credible.” But Trump also kept expressing sympathy for his political opponent. “As soon as you’re famous, you get accused,” he said.
High-profile members of Trump’s team seem a little more willing to get out in front on this, but their response is also not as Biden focused as it could be.
Donald Trump Jr. has shared Reade’s allegation on social media and given interviews about how he thinks it’s troublesome. But a central focus of his criticism and Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale’s criticism is actually journalists for not covering the allegation as quickly and as forcefully as Christine Blasey Ford’s when she accused Kavanaugh. (There’s a debate in the mainstream media now about whether such criticism is warranted.)
Overall, rather than driving a conversation around about the specifics of the allegation — the corroborators, for example — Trump’s defenders appear to be lumping “Democrats” and “the media” and “Biden” together, and their main charge is hypocrisy rather than hyping up the fact Biden is accused of sexual assault.