Jul 25, 2023, 6:15pm EDT
politicsNorth America

Hunter Biden is a scandal machine. Democrats aren’t worried — yet.

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The News

Last week, when the Club for Growth paid for new polling of the 2024 electorate, it asked two questions for the very first time. Were voters worried that “illegal drugs are appearing in the White House?” And did they believe that the president should “acknowledge Hunter [Biden]’s daughter as his grandchild?”

The results were overwhelming: Yes and yes. Sixty-three percent of voters were unhappy that the Secret Service couldn’t figure out who left cocaine at the White House this month (Republicans have cast suspicion on Hunter), and 69% wanted the president to admit that he had seven grandchildren, not six. None of the conservative issues tested for the Club by WPA Intelligence — supporting “freedom schools,” opposing a government-backed “digital currency” — had numbers like this.

“I was a little surprised,” Club for Growth President David McIntosh said at a Monday night happy hour in D.C., where he shared the polling with reporters. It was too early to say whether Republicans could win votes by pressing the White House on Hunter Biden. But “if it looks like Hunter Biden received money to influence his dad,” said McIntosh, “Republicans will make it a big issue and I think voters will care about it.”

Hunter Biden’s many problems, from the child paternity case to the tax fraud investigation that’s bringing him back to court this week to the sex tapes that were put on posters in a House hearing, haven’t inspired much Democratic angst about the president. Most polling has justified that attitude, finding that very few voters who might support Joe Biden for a second term are following the Hunter stories, and that even fewer factor it into their 2024 vote.

“Democrats and independents just don’t really hold Joe Biden responsible for Hunter,” said Chris Jackson, a senior VP at Ipsos, one of fairly few public pollsters that’s been asking voters about the president’s son. “We’ll see, right? There’s over a year to go before the election, but so far they aren’t changing.”


But coverage of Hunter Biden has also changed in recent weeks: A wide range of stories about the president’s son are now getting more traction outside of conservative media. As Republicans step up their criticism of the “Biden family” — a catch-all phrase that ties the president to anything his relatives do — pollsters are watching to see if public attitudes change as well.

The accusation that the president himself took bribes, first made at the end of the 2020 campaign, hasn’t moved voters after three years of investigation; Republicans are hopeful that closed-door testimony from Hunter Biden’s associate, Devon Archer, will change that. Claims by two IRS agents that the Justice Department undermined the investigation into Hunter have found a much more receptive media audience and, while not proven, forced everyone from the FBI Director to the Attorney General to the U.S. Attorney handling the case to directly rebut them.

Meanwhile, queasiness about the Biden family ignoring Hunter’s illegitimate child has gotten more pick-up in traditional media, and a few shots from rival candidates. When Ron DeSantis wanted to hit back at the White House, over its criticism of state education standards, he did it with a joke about “Biden’s granddaughter.”

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David’s view

Why have Democrats been so confident, for so long, that nothing Hunter Biden does will seriously damage his father? The Republican answer is that the media and law enforcement, which are hopelessly compromised and anti-Trump, have been protecting the family.

“As long as you have this political bias and the interference in the investigations or prosecution, you’re not gonna have any prosecution until after Biden’s out of the White House,” Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley told me in Iowa, shortly before releasing an FBI record on an alleged scheme to bribe the Bidens. Republicans are going to the mat with that, and talking about impeachment; House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters today that Biden had “lied to the American public” about whether he helped with his son’s business deals, and it might take an impeachment inquiry to prove it.


The pollsters’ answer is different: It’s that voters simply do not care about this. They learned in 2019 that candidate Joe Biden had a ne’er-do-well son, they processed that information, and they haven’t followed each beat of the story.

“Independents and Democrats have zero interest in Hunter Biden — zero,” said Frank Luntz, a political consultant who frequently builds focus groups. “It didn’t matter in 2020 or 2022, either. Republicans are a different matter. To them, anything that reflects badly on any Biden is a good thing.”

Democrats have mostly echoed Biden’s overall framing of the issue, if not his assertion that Hunter did “nothing wrong” ahead of his indictment. They say the president has a troubled son with a tragic family history who fell into hard drugs and that he’s doing his best to support him.

“If Hunter Biden is guilty of crimes that anyone else would go to prison for, then lock his ass up” ex-New York Rep. Mondaire Jones told us earlier this month, “But it has nothing to do with President Joe Biden.”

That’s where most polling has landed, too. Last month, when Ipsos asked whether “Joe Biden is being a good father by supporting his son Hunter, even while Hunter goes through legal troubles,” 60% of all voters agreed, including 47% of Republicans. A majority of Republicans said that Hunter Biden’s plea deal reduced their “likelihood” of voting to re-elect the president; just 20% of independents and 7% of Democrats said the same.


“You can explain the challenge for Republicans with three words: What’s the crime?” said John Couvillon, the founder of JMC Analytics & Polling. “We all know Hunter has done some sleazy stuff and he’s been leveraging his father’s influence. If they can prove that this affected Biden’s policies with regards to American interests, that’s a potentially powerful narrative. But I haven’t seen that they’ve proven that narrative yet.”

Eddie Vale, a strategist with the pro-Biden pushback group Facts First USA, said that Republicans had made his job easier by disappearing down “multiple rabbit holes of insanity.” Why were voters not paying attention when Republicans said there was fresh evidence of Biden family corruption? Because, Vale argued, “you’re supposed to under-promise and over-deliver,” but they’d claimed to have it even before they opened the House investigation.

Republicans have linked the Biden investigations to the Trump indictments, arguing they show a two-tiered justice system that treats the current president and his family more favorably than the previous one. Democrats have also linked the two investigations, but to argue Republicans are relying on warmed-over baseless claims from years earlier to defend Trump from genuinely serious charges.

“The American people see this embarrassing and now X-rated carnival for what it is, a transparent effort to prop up President Trump’s poll numbers by attacking the DOJ and FBI and establishing a false equivalency between President Biden and the twice-impeached and continually disgraced former president Trump,” said Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, in a statement to Semafor.

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The View From Biden's Democratic Challengers

Marianne Williamson hasn’t made an issue out of the Hunter drama. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has mostly refused to, until this past weekend. When Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo pressed him on the GOP investigation, Kennedy said that “we really need a real investigation of what happened” if it turned out that Burisma “paid out apparently $10 million to Hunter and his dad.”

Norman Solomon, who co-founded the anti-Biden group Step Aside, Joe!, doesn’t support either challenger. But the Hunter story, he said, risked “a re-run of 2016, when all the background noise about alleged Hillary Clinton corruption — such as high-paid corporate speeches and Clinton Foundation donations — hurt her with some voters on the fence.” Republicans would keep pounding on the corruption allegations, making “one more reason Biden is a risky candidate.”

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Room for Disagreement

Some Trump critics see the entire Hunter story as a coping mechanism for Republicans who don’t want to defend the former president, but don’t want to vote for a Democrat if he’s the nominee. “The Hunter stuff is really all just an escape vehicle for Republicans looking to avoid grappling with Trump’s federal indictment,” Jonathan V. Last wrote in The Bulwark. In that regard, it may be a success, Jonathan Chait argues, pointing to conservative critics of Trump who have likened the Biden family issues to their own concerns about Trump.

“To make this worldview hold up, every awful thing about Trump must have an equal and opposite flaw in his opponent,” Chait writes. “And so in the end, with everything else being a tie, they will vote for the candidate who signs the tax cuts and appoints conservative judges.”

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  • Maureen Dowd’s column on the granddaughter Biden won’t acknowledge broke through with some Democrats: “The president can’t defend Hunter on all his other messes and draw the line at accepting one little girl.” Paul Sperry’s prediction of where this is going to end up: “Biden’s categorical denial he ever talked business [with] Hunter will go down as one of the biggest lies in American political history,” and destroy his credibility. Insider’s reporting on how naming a Democratic donor appointed by the president to a humanities commission had bought some of Hunter Biden’s paintings.