- Former vice president Joe Biden‘s 2020 presidential campaign has been dogged by questions about the candidate’s approach to women since before he entered the race.
- Eight women have accused Biden of touching them in ways that made them feel uncomfortable. Biden has also been criticised for repeatedly commenting on the physical appearance of young girls on the campaign trail, and of making light of the allegations against him.
- Biden’s defenders say they don’t mind his actions and argue that President Donald Trump – who has been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women – poses a bigger threat.
- But progressive strategists and experts say Biden’s apparent unwillingness to change his ways is evidence that he doesn’t understand how his actions have impacted people.
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Former Vice President Joe Biden has been dogged by questions about his approach to women since even before he entered the 2020 presidential race.
After eight women came forward to accuse Biden of unwanted – but not necessarily sexual – physical contact, Biden promised to “be more mindful about respecting personal space.” He did not explicitly apologise for his past behaviour.
Just a few days after releasing the video, Biden joked that he “got permission” to hug a male union president on stage. The predominantly male audience at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers event responded with laughter and applause.
When pressed by reporters that same day, Biden said, “I’m sorry I didn’t understand more, I’m not sorry for any of my intentions. I’m not sorry for anything that I’ve ever done.”
Since then, the 76-year-old politician has come under fire from progressives for remarks he’s made to young girls both on and off the campaign trail.
But many of Biden’s supporters, particularly older voters who make up the majority of the Democratic electorate, may not mind. And judging by the crowd’s reactions to some of his recent gaffes, they might even celebrate his apparent rejection of political correctness.
‘He’s appealing to that un-PC crowd’
At a campaign event in New Hampshire earlier this month, Biden paused to pull a chair over for a woman who was seated on the floor. After she leaned in and whispered something in his ear, Biden announced, “I want the press to know: she pulled me close.”
The line drew immediate laughter and applause from the crowd, which was made up of roughly 100 people, the vast majority of whom were older and white.
The woman involved in the interaction, New Hampshire retiree Sandy Bergquist, also brushed off the joke.
“He’s not what we have now,” Bergquist told INSIDER after the event, referring to President Donald Trump, who’s been accused of sexual misconduct by nearly two dozen women.
“He’s happily married, he’s a good dad, he’s suffered a lot in his life,” she added. “I think you have to be careful what you do, but I wouldn’t blow this up.”
Rebecca Katz, a progressive strategist and former adviser to Cynthia Nixon’s insurgent New York gubernatorial bid, said she doesn’t think Biden’s controversial remarks are intentionally provocative, but they may pull an older, more socially conservative base of voters toward Biden.
“He’s appealing to that un-‘PC’ crowd that probably makes a lot of the same jokes,” she told INSIDER. “Some politicians have found a way into people’s hearts with their dad jokes, Joe Biden has found a way into people’s hearts with his granddad jokes.”
A spokesperson for the Biden campaign declined to comment on the record.
‘Governing is about connecting with people’
Biden also owes much of his popularity to his knack for retail politics.
“I’ll always believe governing – quite frankly, life, for that matter – is about connecting with people,” Biden said in his April video statement responding to the accusations against him.
His defenders say he’s long managed to connect with Americans on a personal level, often relating his own experiences losing his wife and daughter in a car accident and his son to brain cancer.
“I can’t tell you how many times we found ourselves well off schedule because the Vice President would not leave an event so he could talk to a parent who just lost a son or daughter, or someone who has just begun to navigate the world of cancer treatment,” said Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist who oversaw the Obama-Biden campaigns in Florida.
Schale added that Biden is “listening and has modified his behaviour on the stump.”
But others say he isn’t doing enough to change.
Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, said Biden’s apparent unwillingness to change his ways is evidence that he doesn’t understand how his actions have impacted people.
“It seems that Biden is struggling to shift from defending the intent of his words and/or actions to working to understand how the effects of his behaviour may not align,” Dittmar told INSIDER in an email.
“That understanding only comes when you are willing and able to admit your own limitations in knowledge and experience and to do the work to advance your understanding and adjust your behaviour as a signal that you take others’ perspectives, experiences, and concerns seriously and are committed to doing better,” she added.
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