Hunter Biden conviction puts wrinkle into 2024 campaign

Hunter Biden’s guilty verdict marks the latest wrinkle thrown into the 2024 campaign between President Biden and former President Trump ahead of their November contest.

For Biden, the outcome blunts Republican claims of a two-tiered Justice system and the weaponization of the DOJ against the president’s political rival. But those close to Biden said the personal toll will be heavy for a man who is close with his family, as evidenced by a quickly arranged trip to Delaware to be with his son following the verdict.

David Axelrod, a former senior adviser in the Obama White House, said the psychological impact on Biden is the biggest question in the aftermath of the verdict.

“You know, Joe Biden has lost two kids and he’s watched his son battle addiction. And this is a blow. This is a blow,” Axelrod said on his podcast, “Hacks on Tap.”

But the verdict also creates a curveball for Trump and his campaign, who must weigh how aggressively to attack the president over his son. The former president has at times called for a special counsel to investigate the Biden family, and has frequently accused Biden of being “crooked,” but he has also spoken publicly about his own family’s struggles with addiction.

“It’s a very tough situation for a father; it’s a very tough situation for a brother or sister; and it goes on, and it’s not stopping, whether it’s alcohol or drugs ot whatever it may be,” Trump told Fox News on Thursday, two days after Hunter Biden’s conviction. “It’s a tough moment for any family involved in that.”

Hunter Biden was found guilty 11 days after Trump was also convicted on starkly different matters. Hunter Biden was found guilty of three federal gun charges over lying about being a drug addict during the purchase of a firearm while Trump was convicted on 34 felony counts in a hush money case involving falsifying business records.

The reaction of each defendant after each verdict couldn’t have been further apart, however.

Trump frequently railed against the judge in his case, which he often deemed “rigged” and blamed on President Biden directly while in Hunter Biden’s case, he and his father both said they accept the jury’s verdict while acknowledging the recovery efforts of the younger Biden.

“Politically, [Tuesday] speaks to the ultimate character contrast between the two men running for President: a family man vs. a businessman,” said Michael LaRosa, first lady Jill Biden’s traveling press secretary during the 2020 campaign. “Trump and his family throw tantrums, and whine, complain or attack the judge and judicial system, while the President and the Biden family show nothing but humility and respect for the process, the jury, judge, and the system — even when they are handed a heartbreaking outcome.”

The dueling verdicts have also left Republicans wondering if there is a strong argument for the GOP to use against Hunter Biden in the aftermath of his conviction.

“The [Hunter Biden] conviction definitely helps provide a ‘But Hunter’ retort to criticisms of Trump’s ethics from the left. But the fact that it revolves around clearly personal behavior as opposed to some official actions means it’s probably more of a soundbite than an argument,” said Stewart Verdery,  a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security under Bush and CEO of Monument Advocacy.

Several members of the close-knit Biden family, other than the president himself, attended the trial in Wilmington, including first lady Jill Biden. After the verdict, Biden made an unplanned trip to Wilmington before leaving for Italy on Wednesday to see his son.

The personal nature of Hunter the trial is one reason why Republicans may not look to make political hay out of Hunter Biden’s conviction.

One Republican strategist noted that the case deals with gun rights and addiction, two subject areas where base GOP voters might actually be sympathetic to the president’s son.

“The point about the weaponization of the DOJ is right,” said one Republican strategist, noting Hunter Biden originally had a plea deal in place that would have seen him plead guilty to misdemeanor tax offenses and avoid prosecution over the gun charge.

“Republicans don’t care about the gun charge. It’s not about the gun charge. It never was about the gun charge,” the strategist said. “It was about the taxes and documents and connections to what they’re doing overseas.”

As election day draws near, Hunter Biden will face a whole new set of legal troubles, right in the heat of the general election.

The president’s son is scheduled to go on a separate trial in September on federal tax charges, and his sentencing in the gun case will also take place later this year. Trump is also enmeshed in three other state and federal cases stemming from efforts to overturn the 2020 election and potential mishandling of classified documents, but those cases are almost certain not to reach a jury before Election Day.

Still, legals battles could make their way to the debate stage in June, when President Biden and Trump will meet for their first presidential debate, a potential window into how both campaigns will treat what’s happened in the courtroom.

So far, the Biden campaign has on several occasions marked Trump a “convicted criminal” and Biden trolled Trump during the trial as being “free on Wednesdays,” the day of the week that court didn’t meet.

Trump’s campaign has for years attacked the Biden family as being criminally corrupt, but since the Hunter Biden convictions, Trump and Republicans have been fairly muted about attacking Hunter and his father.

The personal toll on Biden could also help resonate with a wider electorate.  In his first statement on his son’s  verdict, the president appealed to other families with loved ones with addiction by saying they “understand the feeling of pride seeing someone you love come out the other side.”

Kate Bedingfield, former White House communications director, said people connected to conversations about the Biden family’s struggles during the 2020 campaign.

“Even people who maybe didn’t even feel that sympathetic towards Biden politically resonated with the way he talked about his family, supported his son,” she said on CNN on Tuesday.

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