When The Hunter Becomes The Hunted
The core message of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign has essentially been that he is the one best suited to defeat Donald Trump in 2020. In the speech that launched his campaign, Biden presented himself as the one man who could unify the country after the divisiveness of Trump. He has continued that theme, presenting himself as Obama’s heir, and largely eschewing presenting any policy proposals that would be in any way controversial among the Democratic primary electorate. That tactic, in conjunction with his strong name recognition, had given Biden a consistent but shrinking lead over his Democratic rivals in polls, a lead that has now evaporated nationally.
Trump’s admitted effort to extort Ukraine in order to investigate Biden and his family has finally forced the Democrats to begin at least an impeachment inquiry. But that scandal also provides Trump with the almost perfect weapon to neutralize the core message of the Biden campaign. Yesterday, in just one of his unhinged rants,Trump declared that “Biden and his son are stone cold crooked” and everyone knows it. Trump has used the thoroughly debunked claim that Biden pressured Ukraine to fire the prosecutor who was investigating his son (but actually wasn’t) to create a false equivalence to the President’s actual efforts to get Ukraine to interfere in US electoral politics. The fact that Biden was actually pressuring Ukraine to crack down on corruption and that Hunter Biden was not under investigation at the time is, of course, irrelevant to Trump’s fantasy world.
Unfortunately, Ukraine is not the only case that Trump and the right-wing propaganda machine can point to in order to illustrate the corruption of the Bidens. Yesterday, in the second of his unhinged rants, Trump accused Hunter Biden of having one meeting with a Chinese businessman during a trip to China in 2013 on which he accompanied his father and then walking away with $1.5 billion. This is yet another story that has been thoroughly debunked as Hunter Biden took no financial interest in the fund that the Chinese businessman eventually set up until 2017.
The problem for Biden the candidate is that both these stories have just enough of a kernel of truth to allow Trump and the right wing propaganda machine to push it and there will always be the Ken Vogels in the media to lend it an air of credibility. Hunter Biden was involved with Burisma in Ukraine and did meet with the Chinese businessman on the trip to China with his father the Vice President. The power of the bully pulpit and the right wing media in pushing the Biden corruption line is evident in the recent poll that shows a plurality of Americans do believe that Biden acted corruptly in his dealings with Ukraine in order to protect his son. Among so-called independents, 40% believe Biden acted corruptly.
The idea that if somehow the Bidens were corrupt that would therefore mitigate Trump’s impeachable crimes is also a typical Trumpian fantasy. The only way that pushing the line that the Bidens are corrupt will help Trump is in the 2020 election. And that message also strikes at the raison d’etre of the entire Biden candidacy. If a plurality of the people believe you too are corrupt, it makes it hard to convince them that you are the one capable of restoring trust and unifying the country.
Yes, Trump will, of course, fabricate stories about whichever Democrat is the eventual nominee and try to create some false equivalence with the many crimes Trump himself has committed. The problem for Biden is that he is uniquely vulnerable to those attacks simply because his campaign is less focused on issues and more focused on being the only candidate that can beat Trump and restore the normalcy and trust that Trump has obliterated. So, rather than being the “safe” choice for Democrats, Biden may now, in fact, be the Democrat most vulnerable to Trump’s attacks.