Updated 11:08 PM EDT, Thu September 14, 2023
Two major threats to President Joe Biden’s reelection – his son Hunter’s legal problems and the widely held perception the 80-year-old is too old for reelection – are both causing him major pain this week.
Hunter Biden was indicted on federal gun charges in Delaware on Thursday, accused of lying about his past drug abuse and violating a gun law when he bought a handgun in 2018, before his father’s presidential campaign. The weapon was later abandoned behind a grocery store by Hallie Biden, the wife of Hunter’s late brother, Beau. Hallie and Hunter were having an affair at the time.
Read an annotated version of the indictment.
Hunter Biden’s legal problems
That sad and sordid family drama of addiction could land the president’s son in prison, although separate investigations on tax evasion and foreign business dealings have not yet led to charges from the Delaware US attorney David Weiss, who was elevated earlier this year to special counsel to guarantee independence from the US Department of Justice.
While Weiss has found no basis to criminally charge Hunter Biden over his foreign business dealings and no direct connection has been drawn between the son’s business interests and the father’s policy positions, House Republicans plan to dig deep as they look for more evidence during an official impeachment inquiry authorized by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy earlier this week.
Pushing onward with impeachment
The impeachment may never occur, and the years of investigation may not have exposed any wrongdoing by President Biden – but the inquiry will certainly keep Hunter Biden top of mind for voters who may wonder why the president would let his family operate like this.
Any Democrats who dismiss the effort might recall that McCarthy bragged in 2015 that the exhaustive House investigations focused on Hillary Clinton wounded her politically. At the time, he was talking about investigations into the death of a US ambassador in Benghazi, Libya, while she was secretary of state. The effort by today’s GOP to tie Biden to his son could have a similar effect.
What Americans believe about Hunter Biden’s business
Even if there is nothing to tie President Biden to the millions of dollars Hunter Biden and other family members made from interests in China, Ukraine and elsewhere, most Americans are not convinced.
Well more than half the country, 61%, thinks Biden had some involvement in his son’s business dealings while serving as vice president, according to a CNN poll conducted by SSRS in late August, before the gun-related indictment was handed down but after a previous plea deal fell apart. Most of those people who think the president was involved back then also think the actions were illegal.
What’s not clear is whether the Hunter Biden issues will be a motivating factor outside the group of voters who already dislike the president. His low job approval rating and concerns about the economy could ultimately be more damaging in an election.
The age issue will not die
The public’s perception of his relationship with his son is not even the most concerning element for Biden in the poll. That would be his age.
“Biden’s age isn’t just a Fox News trope; it’s been the subject of dinner-table conversations across America this summer,” the Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote this week in calling for Biden to step aside ASAP to give someone else a shot at winning the 2024 election.
Just about a quarter of Americans in CNN’s poll said Biden has the stamina and sharpness to serve effectively, far from a ringing endorsement of a president who brought policy wins back from a trip to Asia last week but left the impression he was confused at a press conference.
Appetite for an alternative
Only a third of Democrats and Democratic-leaning registered voters in the poll said they think Biden should be the Democrats’ candidate in 2024. Two-thirds want a different candidate, although almost nobody knows who.
Ignatius had enough of the president’s respect earlier this summer to get an invite to Biden’s state dinner for the Indian prime minister in June. Hunter Biden also attended.
Ignatius is among the people who effusively say Biden has been a very good president, both “successful” and “effective.”
“What I admire most about President Biden is that in a polarized nation, he has governed from the center out, as he promised in his victory speech,” Ignatius wrote, adding plaudits for Biden’s domestic accomplishments and foreign policy leadership.
But Ignatius fears another pairing of Biden with Vice President Kamala Harris “risks undoing his greatest achievement — which was stopping Trump.”
Among Democratic voters, the most-cited concerns with Biden are his age and the need for someone younger.
The vast majority of the Democrats interested in a Biden alternative picked “just someone besides Joe Biden.” One of the most-supported specific alternatives, Sen. Bernie Sanders, is older than Biden.
The lack of confidence in Harris to take up the mantle was evident when CNN’s Anderson Cooper talked Wednesday night to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is running for reelection to Congress but stepped away from her leadership position.
Cooper asked Pelosi if Harris was the best running mate for Biden.
“He thinks so and that’s what matters,” Pelosi said, although she did commend Harris
Pelosi promised that Democrats are behind Biden, and she does think he’s the best candidate to beat Trump.
“He has great experience and wisdom,” Pelosi said.
CNN’s Edward-Isaac Dovere writes that the Biden campaign is plotting a long-game strategy and that aides blame the media for “what they view as validating concerns about Biden’s age and about Republican claims of Hunter Biden’s corruption by covering those concerns, despite what they argue is a lack of evidence.”
They are banking, he writes, on a data-focused emphasis on key states to turn the moveable voters away from Trump.
Biden was a strong closer in 2020
He lost badly in Iowa and New Hampshire in the 2020 primary, for instance, before riding a wave of support from moderates in southern states to a dramatic upset of multiple younger candidates and those with more committed followings.
Biden emerged from a crowded pack four years ago. There’s little indication it would make sense for him to open the primary up, as Ignatius suggests, to some of those same people today.
Ultimately, there is an open question over what this election will be about.
If it’s about a referendum on an aging president whose fitness worries voters and who allowed his son to make millions in circumstances that raise suspicions even without evidence of wrongdoing, Biden will struggle.
That said, one of the few things voters might like less is a person who tried to overturn an election.