WASHINGTON — A sexual assault allegation against his Democratic challenger is offering President Donald Trump with a new message for women voters: Joe Biden is just as bad as I am.
Trump is accused of rape and is fighting attempts to force him turn over a DNA sample. Two dozen other women have accused him of varying degrees of sexual assault and misconduct. He was caught on tape bragging that his celebrity allowed him to do the precise thing that Biden is accused of.
Nevertheless, his aides have latched on to onetime staffer Tara Reade’s accusation that Biden sexually assaulted her 27 years ago, pushing her up against a wall and penetrating her with his fingers. “Believe all women means all women — you don’t get to choose,” White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told Fox News Friday.
The Trump camp’s strategy, despite the obvious hypocrisy, is transparent, said political consultants from both parties.
“They are pushing her story relentlessly and the targets are young people, progressives and women,” said David Axelrod, the architect of former President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. “They don’t expect to win these voters. No one who shuns Biden because of Tara Reade is likely to flock to Trump, given his sordid history. They simply want to depress Biden’s numbers. In a marginal race, even a few votes shaved off his total in some closely contested states can make a difference.”
Tim Miller, a Republican consultant and Trump critic, said the attacks are also designed to give moderate Republicans an excuse to vote for Trump. “Give people who know deep down that Trump is bad a ‘but’ talking point. Absolve themselves of responsibility for Trump’s manifest immortality and unfitness,” Miller said. “Everything they do is about muddying the waters.”
And Democratic pollster Peter Hart predicted the attempts to use Reade against Biden are just a hint of what will come this autumn. “The only thing I feel confident in predicting is that Trump will not bring up the tragic death of Neilia,” Hart said, referring to Biden’s first wife who died in a car accident along with their 1-year-old daughter in 1972. “Beyond that, this is the protégé of Roy Cohen.”
Biden personally addressed the allegation by Reade for the first time Friday on NBC, stating that the event she described did not happen and asking that her shifting explanations be analyzed carefully.
Those shifts have been on both major details as well as minor. Reade came out publicly a year ago and said Biden had made her uncomfortable by putting his hands on her shoulders, but she didn’t allege the sexual assault until an interview in late March. Early in April, she told The New York Times that she did not mention the sexual assault allegation with her initial disclosure because she was scared. She also told the Times her postings admiring Russian dictator Vladimir Putin had been part of a novel she was writing and had been taken out of context, but then told BuzzFeed that her views on Putin had changed after she learned more about him.
No Biden staffer who worked with Reade has corroborated her account of any sort of harassment or assault, but several other people have confirmed that she told them some details about the incident either at the time it happened in 1993 or long before the 2020 election.
While numerous women have complained that Biden’s habit over the years of touching their shoulders or hair was unwelcome, Reade is the first to accuse him of sexual assault.
That is a stark contrast with Trump, who as a candidate in 2016 had some two dozen women accuse him of conduct ranging from unwanted kissing to voyeuristically entering a teen beauty pageant locker room to sexual assault.
Kristin Anderson accused Trump of sliding his hand beneath her skirt and fingering her through her underwear in a New York City nightclub in the early 1990s. Jessica Leeds accused Trump of grabbing her breasts and putting his hand up her skirt during an airplane flight in the early 1980s. Natasha Stoynoff accused Trump of pushing her against a wall and forcibly kissing her in 2005 in the course of an interview she was conducting for People magazine.
And last year, writer E. Jean Carroll accused Trump of raping her in the dressing room of a Manhattan department store in the late 1990s. She has filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump for calling her a liar, and as part of that is requesting that Trump submit a DNA sample. Trump is fighting that request.
Trump has broadly denied all the women’s claims, even threatening to sue them. “Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign, total fabrication. The events never happened. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over,” he said on Oct. 22, 2016, in a campaign speech.
Those remarks came just two weeks after The Washington Post published 11-year-old video from the show “Access Hollywood,” in which Trump is heard boasting that his fame permitted him to commit sexual assault and get away with it. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful ― I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait,” he said. “And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy.”
That history notwithstanding, Trump’s campaign and staff have in recent days aggressively attacked Biden, Democrats and the news media for not giving more attention and credence to Reade’s allegations.
Campaign adviser and former White House aide Mercedes Schlapp on Friday posted on Twitter: “Will the Democratic women Senators ask for the release of @JoeBiden documents from the University of Delaware? They are turning a blind eye to Tara Reade’s story and the #MeToo movement.”
And campaign staffer Harrison Floyd, part of the “Black Voices for Trump” effort, wrote: “Name one rapist that didn’t think they were being ‘affectionate’ or ‘flirtatious’ in the moment of committing rape or sexual assault? #JoeBidenIsARapist #BidenDropOut #BidenRapist.”
Trump himself made the strategy plain on Thursday in remarks at the White House, when he said Biden should address the matter but that he empathizes with him. “It could be false accusations,” Trump said. “I know all about false accusations. I’ve been falsely charged numerous times. And there is such a thing.”
“They want to do whatever they can to drag down Biden’s approval and make the contest the lesser of two evils,” said Norm Ornstein of the conservative leaning American Enterprise Institute. “If they can get the suburban women who won’t vote for Trump to stay home, that is good for them.”
“This is one of Trump’s biggest weak spots. If he can muddy up the water at all on this issue with suburban woman, it’s good for him,” added Joe Walsh, a former Illinois congressman who ran unsuccessfully against Trump for the 2020 nomination.
But John Weaver, who worked on the Republican presidential campaigns of John McCain and John Kasich, said Trump’s three years in office have dug him too deep a hole with college-educated women for that attack on Biden to work. “It won’t,” he predicted. “NDAs, payoff to porn stars, attacks on women, children in cages, pandemic response.”