Tara Reade’s allegation that Joseph Biden sexually assaulted her when she was a Senate aide in 1993 is the gravest, but not the first, accusation of improper behavior toward women by the former vice president. In April 2019, when it became clear that Biden would run for president, seven other women described incidents of unwanted and inappropriate touching, massaging, and kissing. Biden responded then with regret that he might have made people feel uncomfortable with his touchy-feely style, claiming that that was “never [his] intention.” But he has strongly denied Reade’s assault charge. And there are inconsistencies in her account. She says sexual harassment was rampant and well known in Biden’s senate office; PBS recently interviewed seventy-four former Biden staffers, none of whom recalled any instance of it.
Predictably, much of the reaction to Reade’s claim has focused on its potential effect on the election. Coverage and opinion fall mainly along partisan lines. Right-wing media outlets have gleefully run with the story; Democrats and liberal commentators have largely lined up behind the likely nominee, who they perceive is the party’s best bet to defeat Donald Trump—himself accused by twenty-three women of a range of sexual offenses, from harassment to rape. Democratic voters are largely unfazed by Reade’s allegations; only 15 percent say they’re credible, according to a HuffPost/YouGov poll, as opposed to 48 percent of Republicans. Forget the principles of #MeToo; polling indicates that one’s opinion of Reade’s allegation is far more influenced by party allegiance.