Special counsel David Weiss’s three-count indictment against Hunter Biden over unlawful ownership of a gun comes amid a tough week for President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign and could complicate Biden’s path to the White House.
The unprecedented indictment against a sitting president’s son was announced on Thursday, just two days after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced a separate impeachment inquiry into Biden’s ties to his son’s overseas business dealings.
The effects of the indictment and inquiry in combination with concerns over Biden’s age, his approval numbers, and relative lack of enthusiasm for his campaign, may not bode well for the Biden campaign, 14 months ahead of the 2024 elections.
“Politically what matters is the fact that Republicans are defining the terms of the debate. Biden very much wants to talk about the economy: people are coming back to work, inflation is down, jobs are up,” Peter Loge, director of George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, told the Washington Examiner. “Biden wants to talk about his record as president. The more Hunter Biden is in the news, the more impeachment is in the news, the more all this other stuff is in the news, the less Biden can talk about things he wants to talk about.”
Another sign of the battle Biden faces is that national polling appears to confirm voter concern about the president’s dealings with Hunter Biden. An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released on the same day as the indictment but conducted before the indictment was announced found that 33% of U.S. adults were very concerned that Biden committed wrongdoing related to Hunter Biden, 26% were somewhat concerned, and 41% said they were not very concerned.
Even more concerning is that 34% of independents, a key group of voters who will help determine next year’s elections, said they were very concerned about Biden’s connections to his son, 31% said they were somewhat concerned, while 35% said they weren’t concerned.
Frank Bowman, professor emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Law and author of High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump, told the Washington Examiner that the GOP investigations into Biden will likely muddy voter perception of the president. “The point here is simply to dirty Biden up in the eyes of the public,” he said. “I think to some extent, it’s likely to work. In the sense that most of the American public doesn’t follow these kinds of things closely.
Republicans have long slammed the “weaponization” of the Justice Department and the FBI, pointing to the treatment of former President Donald Trump‘s 91 indictments across four criminal cases and two impeachments compared to the original plea deal the younger Biden agreed to in which he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors tax charges and entered into a pretrial diversion agreement to avoid the felony gun charge. The deal ultimately fell apart under the scrutiny of a federal judge at the plea hearing.
Trump took to social media to gloat over the news of Hunter Biden’s indictment. “This, the gun charge, is the only crime that Hunter Biden committed that does not implicate Crooked Joe Biden. One down, Eleven to go!” he wrote. “The Democrats, with all of their horrible, very unfair, and mostly illegal Witch Hunts, have started a process that is very dangerous for our Country. They have opened the proverbial Pandora’s Box, and it is possible that the USA will never be the same again. SO SAD!!!”
However, some Republicans are hoping to link the president to the misdeeds of his son. “We are going to drag Biden and everyone who covered up his crimes through the headlines day after day, month after month, and prove to the country the entire Democrat party is corrupt and can’t be trusted,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), a key Trump ally on Capitol Hill.
The Democratic response to the indictment and impeachment process is to hang Hunter Biden to dry while protecting the president from association with his son. “The evidence suggests Hunter Biden is guilty of unethical and/or illegal behavior,” said Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN). “The evidence suggests Joe Biden is guilty of absolutely nothing more than being a father.”
Ian Sams, the special assistant to the president and senior adviser and spokesman for the White House Counsel’s Office, issued a memo to news outlets across the United States calling for scrutiny of the Republican impeachment process: “In the modern media environment, where every day liars and hucksters peddle disinformation and lies everywhere from Facebook to Fox, process stories that fail to unpack the illegitimacy of the claims on which House Republicans are basing all their actions only serve to generate confusion, put false premises in people’s feeds, and obscure the truth.”
Sarah Chamberlain, president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership, said the Democratic tactic may not work given how close the older and younger Biden are. “Though the president is probably not directly involved with the gun issue, it all kind of comes back to him,” Chamberlain said. “And he certainly doesn’t do anything except say that his son has done nothing wrong and has him at the White House, has him flying on Air Force One. So we think it would definitely affect him.”
“He can’t be oblivious to all of it. It’s not like he’s estranged from him,” she added. “I think that’s why they opened up an inquiry, to see how much involvement President Biden has with his son.”
Loge, of George Washington University, said voters fatigued with political corruption may not feel compelled to side with Trump over Biden. “It’s hard to imagine a voter thinking, ‘I’m not going to vote for Biden because his son had a substance abuse problem. My better choice is the guy who paid off a porn star and fomented an insurrection,'” Loge said.
At least two of the criminal charges Trump currently faces are in connection to a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 election and allegedly attempting to overturn the 2020 elections leading to the subsequent Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Trump’s ongoing legal problems have prompted some of his GOP primary rivals and donors to push the Republican Party to move beyond the former president.
To counteract the indictment and impeachment, Loge said Biden needs to focus on meeting voters where they are at, including “talking to voters, talking about the local economy, talking about real issues that matter to real people. And that isn’t Hunter Biden.”
He pointed to the historic United Auto Workers strike that began at midnight on Friday as one example. “If you’re in a part of the country where the UAW is on strike, the question is how long can we maintain this? And what do I do to feed my family?” he added.
Yet Chamberlain said if there is a connection between the president and his son’s criminal activities, sympathy for Biden as a father with a child struggling with addiction will drop among voters. “Everybody has compassion for the fact that Hunter Biden has a drug problem. And everybody knows somebody who also has a drug problem. So there’s a lot of compassion there,” she said. “But if Hunter Biden turns out to be a criminal, that is going to be a different matter.”
“I think it’s gonna be really hard for President Biden to run away from that since his son has been all over with him,” she added.