Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Trump’s Coming Victory Over the #MeToo Movement

As Tara Reade tells her story, the Democrats face a choice: investigate Biden or admit the anti-misogyny campaign doesn't matter.
Joe Biden

“I have been Larry Flynted” is not chiseled on one of our national monuments. Maybe it’s time to change that.

Those words were uttered in a Republican caucus meeting in December 1998 by Congressman Bob Livingston of Louisiana. Newt Gingrich had just resigned following the GOP’s mediocre showing in that year’s midterm elections. Livingston was set to take over as speaker of the House, only for it to emerge, courtesy of flesh merchant Larry Flynt, that he’d had extramarital affairs. This was no incidental gossip: the Republicans were then arguing that President Bill Clinton ought to be impeached for lying under oath about his own adultery. Rather than make their efforts seem hypocritical, Livingston resigned on the House floor. Republicans and Democrats alike gave him a standing ovation.

Don’t credit the GOP too much. Newt Gingrich had crusaded against Clinton for years despite reports of his own infidelity. And Livingston’s decision was ultimately made more for the sake of his family than the consistency of his party’s message. Still, the abdication of Livingston, a popular rep who many at the time believed might have shouldered the GOP into a successful post-Gingrich era, stands out as a rare example of principle superseding politics, of “do as I say” aligning with “do as I do.”

How utterly adorable.

Fast-forward to today and we have another allegation of sexual impropriety against a prominent political figure, this one far graver than simple adultery. According to Tara Reade, in 1993, then-senator Joe Biden approached her in the Capitol building, pushed her against a wall, and inserted his fingers inside her. She was later fired from his office when she voiced concerns. Her brother, friend, and former neighbor have all said she told them what happened shortly after the incident. A video from that same year appears to show her mother calling in to CNN’s Larry King Live to ask about “problems” her daughter had encountered with “a prominent senator.” Reade’s allegation is now more corroborated than anything Christine Blasey Ford leveled against Brett Kavanaugh. If we’re to Believe All Women, if No Really Means No, then Reade’s accusations at the very least deserve a public hearing.

Instead the anti-Trump media heavyweights have all but blacked out the story. The New York Times sat on Reade’s allegations for almost three weeks, only for executive editor Dean Baquet to claim this was because they wanted to do more research to help readers “understand” (a luxury notably not afforded to Kavanaugh, whom the Times hammered). CNN waited 24 days to mention Reade’s allegations, failed to break the news of Reade’s mother’s appearance on their own network, and allowed Anderson Cooper to interview Biden without asking a single question about the purported assault. The Democratic National Committee has stayed mum on Reade. Women’s groups, usually eager to see another sex pest get his comeuppance, have been all but silent. Hillary Clinton endorsed Biden on Tuesday.

To be fair, some on the left have dissented from the blackout. The Intercept has done commendable reporting on Reade’s allegations and many Bernie Bros on Twitter have called out the DNC’s hypocrisy. What they seem to understand is that this doesn’t have to be a binding political marriage. Biden could still be replaced with a less handsy candidate at the convention in the summer—a farfetched scenario, to be sure, but one that was nonetheless being buzzed about well before Reade came forward, with Andrew Cuomo named as a potential dark horse. And given that Democrats accepting Biden has been akin to watching a small child swallow castor oil, surely a do-over wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Yet even if there was no second chance in sight, even if Biden were somehow the only man in America capable of beating a president currently being fact-checked by the Lysol corporation, I’m afraid that’s just too bad. With #MeToo, the left announced a new era of law enforcement with regard to sexual misconduct. This tough-on-crime approach became central to Democrats’ campaign against the president, whom they portrayed as the misogynist kingpin, a pussy-grabbing, cop-a-feeling totem of everything wrong with American men. They don’t now get to do an about-face and declare clemency for Biden because they think defeating Trump is the more urgent cause.

Yet with their silence, that’s exactly what they’re doing. One message of #MeToo was supposed to be that uttering woke platitudes would no longer excuse sexual misconduct. Justice was to be blind, with liberal harassers coming in for the same scrutiny as conservatives. With Biden, that’s all being buried. Machiavelli is triumphing over morals; the entire #MeToo movement teeters over a precipice. All that talk about how the standards need to be applied evenly, the same to hip icons like Louis C.K. as to garden-variety perverts in Florida, now looks like a mere vacation from the usual political oneupsmanship. A lot has been taken from the left in the age of Trump, and if they continue this way, the #MeToo movement may yet be routed too.

The problem here runs deeper than just crass political advantage. America is in the midst of a culture war that has become all-consuming. Not only have we grown factionalized to a degree that would have given the Founding Fathers migraines, those factions have subordinated, or perhaps subsumed, everything else—the law, the national interest, honor, patriotism. These days, doing what’s right by one’s side is regarded as the supreme political virtue, while any advancement by the other side is seen as an existential threat. Thus did the right excuse Donald Trump’s alleged carnal misdeeds so long as he pledged to fight the left; thus do many progressives now avert their eyes and whistle while Tara Reade tells her horror story. The mentality is of wartime, with an allegation of sexual assault just another artillery salvo to be dodged.

Of course, politics has always been bloodsport waged by the imperfect, and Bob Livingstons are far more the exception than the rule. Still, I don’t think it can be denied that something has changed, that the culture war’s imperatives ring louder today than they used to. It’s almost impossible to imagine, for example, Republicans backing the impeachment of a GOP president, as they did with Richard Nixon in 1974. It isn’t that “nothing matters anymore”; it’s that victory over the enemy matters most of all.

As for Bob Livingston, he surfaced again last year, during the furor over Trump’s impeachment. He’s a lobbyist now and represents several organizations in Ukraine, as well as more domestic clients like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. A former National Security Council official testified that Livingston had called her and recommended that Marie Yovanovitch, the ambassador to Ukraine, be fired because she was an “Obama holdover” and connected to George Soros.

Even the good guys in Washington often turn into partisans and calculators. Still, hypocrisy can only be stretched so thin. The question now is: how much longer will Democrats try to test those limits?