Skip to content
Joe Biden’s Hunter Problem
Go to my account

Joe Biden’s Hunter Problem

Plus: Trump has a ‘commanding’ lead in the latest Iowa Poll.

Happy Monday! Donald Trump this weekend told a (certainly fabricated) story about a general praising his 2016 response to the “grab ‘em by the p—y” Access Hollywood tape scandal as “the bravest thing I’ve ever seen.” So, you know, now you know that happened.

Up to Speed

  • Donald Trump will not take the defense stand in his civil fraud trial in New York today, he said on social media Sunday. “I HAVE ALREADY TESTIFIED TO EVERYTHING & HAVE NOTHING MORE TO SAY OTHER THAN THAT THIS IS A COMPLETE & TOTAL ELECTION INTERFERENCE (BIDEN CAMPAIGN!) WITCH HUNT, THAT WILL DO NOTHING BUT KEEP BUSINESSES OUT OF NEW YORK,” the former president wrote. “MAGA!” Trump’s lawyer Alina Habba had previously said he would testify: “He will open himself up to whatever they want, because he’s not afraid.”
  • The Senate spent last week speedily approving a backlog of top military promotions after Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville released parts of his long-standing hold on unanimous-consent batch military approvals. Tuberville, who had vowed to slow Senate approval of military promotions until the Biden administration stopped funding abortion travel for military personnel, said Tuesday he would no longer block three-star posts and below, although he continues to slow the promotion of four-star generals.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is heading to Washington this week to meet with lawmakers in hopes of boosting support for additional Ukraine aid, which is currently in stasis as lawmakers try to hash out a deal that would pair it with funding for Israel and changes to U.S. border policy.
  • Sen. Chris Murphy, the lead Democratic negotiator on those talks, struck a hard line on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday: “If Republicans don’t get reasonable in the next 24 to 48 hours, Russia is going to march into Ukraine. China is going to be given a green light to invade Taiwan.” But he also suggested that Democrats might be willing to discuss “tightening some of the rules” around who can claim asylum “so that you don’t have 10,000 people arriving a day.”

‘When You’re Explaining, You’re Losing’

President Joe Biden waves alongside his son Hunter Biden in August 2022. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
President Joe Biden waves alongside his son Hunter Biden in August 2022. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden’s two biggest electoral problems may be the ones he can’t do a thing about.

There’s his age, which large numbers of voters say hurts their confidence in his ability to serve a second term. And then there’s his son Hunter, whose erratic behavior and rampant lawlessness are proving invaluable to Republicans working to cast the president as untrustworthy and personally corrupt.

Hunter’s legal troubles are getting worse. On Friday, three months after he was charged in Delaware with making false statements while buying a handgun, a federal court in California indicted the younger Biden with nine alleged tax crimes, including three felonies.

The indictment contains eye-popping descriptions of Hunter’s lurid lifestyle between 2016 and 2019, and while in some respects it raises more questions than it answers—how exactly does a person manage to spend $188,960 on adult entertainment?—it’s easy to get the gist. Hunter, prosecutors allege, spent millions on “drugs, escorts and girlfriends, luxury hotels and rental properties, exotic cars, clothing, and other items of a personal nature, in short, everything but his taxes.” (That isn’t quite true: He was fighting to avoid paying child support at the time as well.)  

Despite Republicans’ best efforts, Hunter’s bad behavior—long a matter of public record—still reflects only indirectly on his father, the president. In fact, in their striving to make the one stick to the other, Republicans have sometimes overshot and wound up looking foolish.

Last week, House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer released bank records purporting to show regular payments from one of Hunter’s companies to Joe Biden in 2018. The payments, a Comer spokesperson claimed in an email to reporters, “are part of a pattern revealing Joe Biden knew about, participated in and benefited from his family’s influence-peddling schemes.” Sounds sketchy when you put it that way—less so once you find out that the payments (three of $1,380 each) were Hunter paying Joe back for a truck he’d helped his son finance.

Comer has even darkly suggested that the latest indictment may itself be part of a cover-up. He said on CNN Friday that Special Counsel David Weiss, who has helmed the Hunter investigation, “may have indicted Hunter Biden to protect him from having to be deposed in the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday.”

But silliness like that doesn’t mean there’s no electoral danger for the president here. The latest charges against Hunter once again thrusts forward exactly the conduct Republicans are most eager to spotlight: his name-trading stint as a member of the board of directors of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, from which he derived the bulk of his income during his period of alleged tax truancy.

While vice president in 2016, Joe Biden famously told Ukrainian officials that the U.S. was making $1 billion in aid conditional on the country firing its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin. Shokin, Republicans note, had previously opened an investigation into Burisma in 2014—the same year Burisma brought Hunter Biden aboard.

Other than that circumstantial fact, there’s practically zero reason to believe Biden was acting improperly when he demanded Shokin’s firing. The U.S. wanted Shokin gone because he was dragging his heels on investigating Ukrainian government corruption, and Biden was announcing that official policy, not doing freelance negotiation. Moreover, Burisma was no longer under investigation by the time of Biden’s comments.  

But as Ronald Reagan once said: “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.” Republicans’ attack line, “Biden corruptly used U.S. policy to help his criminal failson Hunter,” is simple; Biden’s largely reasonable defenses for why that’s unfair are more complicated, and he’d much rather be talking about literally anything else. (And let’s not forget that Hunter himself has made those charges much sharper, since he had no compunctions about claiming in communications with his foreign business partners that his father was personally involved.)

Whether the critiques are fair or not, there’s a reason Democrats breathed a heavy sigh of relief this summer when Hunter signed a (short-lived, as it turned out) plea deal. The whole sordid no-upside affair was, they hoped then, over.

“It makes it ‘asked and answered,’ while Trump’s saga will play out for who knows how many more news cycles,” one Capitol Hill Democratic insider told us then. “It’s like pulling off a Band-Aid.”

With the Band-Aid’s status back in question, Democrats are left hoping nothing has changed.

“I think people separate Hunter from his dad,” this same insider told Dispatch Politics this morning. “It’ll be hard for Republicans to ‘whatabout’ this. They already seem desperate in trying to move forward with an impeachment [that] members of their own party are calling a sham. Instead of dealing with their Trump problem, they’re looking for the shiny object to distract. I don’t think Hunter will prove to be the shiny object they hope he is.”

Gold Standard Poll Shows Trump Cementing Lead in Iowa

There are polls. And then there are polls.

The survey produced by nonpartisan Iowa pollster J. Ann Selzer is one of those that has a history of accuracy and foreshadowing. And her latest for the Des Moines Register, Mediacom Iowa, and NBC News, out Monday morning, is a real boost to Donald Trump in his bid to hold off Ron DeSantis and wrap up the Republican nomination early.

The former president leads the Florida governor 51 percent to 19 percent, a gain of 8 percentage points since Selzer’s last poll in October, giving him a support of the majority of likely voters—for the first time—just five weeks before the January Iowa caucuses.

DeSantis picked up just 3 points since then—despite earning the endorsement of Iowa’s popular Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, and the state’s top evangelical activist, Bob Vander Plaats. Nikki Haley, meanwhile, held steady at 16 percent. And Vivek Ramasamy, despite investing significant time and resources campaigning in Iowa, is garnering 5 percent, just a point better than Chris Christie, who is focusing almost exclusively on New Hampshire and has not set foot in the Hawkeye State since announcing his 2024 bid.

“The field may have shrunk, but it may have made Donald Trump even stronger than he was,” Selzer told the Des Moines Register. “I would call his lead commanding at this point. There’s not much benefit of fewer candidates for either Ron DeSantis or Nikki Haley.” Former Vice President Mike Pence and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, both of whom were competing aggressively in Iowa, exited the GOP primary in October and November, respectively.

This poll surveyed 502 likely Republican caucusgoers and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 points. It was conducted December 2 through December 7, meaning its results do not necessarily account for voters’ reactions to last Wednesday’s fourth Republican debate, televised in primetime by NewsNation. Indeed, nearly half of respondents—46 percent—said “they could be persuaded to support another candidate.” But DeSantis and Haley are going to have to make their moves soon. 

Immediately following the debate, Team DeSantis was in fact arguing that support for the former president in Iowa was wavering. “If you went to the Trump team I think you’d see what everybody else sees, a bit of a softening with the president’s support. I think it’s early, I think Iowans are now starting to pay attention,” deputy DeSantis campaign manager David Polyansky told The Dispatch in an interview in the spin room in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “It’s a two-person race.” 

Ken Cuccinelli, founder of Never Back Down, the super PAC backing DeSantis’ presidential bid, made a similar argument upon the conclusion of the debate, generally described as the governor’s best so far. “Caucuses are notoriously difficult to poll and the one-on-one human data we have is different than what you’re seeing reported at the national level,” he told us. “We’re very confident our candidate is going to close this gap.”

Haley, the former South Carolina governor and ex-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is showing signs of viability in Iowa and New Hampshire, at least relative to the battle among second tier candidates to emerge as a consensus alternative to Trump. But DeSantis’ prospects are riding on Iowa. (He’s dropped to 7.7 percent in New Hampshire, behind Christie. Haley is running second there, with 18.7 percent.) Per the new Selzer poll in Iowa, here is what DeSantis is up against:

  • Seventy-one percent of likely GOP caucusgoers say Trump is “‘about right’ in ideology, not too conservative or too moderate.” That’s compared to 60 percent who say the same about DeSantis.
  • Seventy-three percent of likely GOP caucusgoers say Trump can defeat President Joe Biden despite his legal challenges, all but destroying the electability argument DeSantis and Haley have been making against the former president since Day 1 of this campaign.
  • Trump’s lead has grown with Republicans who plan to caucus for the first time as well as with “every demographic group” Selzer tested for this poll, including self-identified independents; people who live in rural, urban, and suburban communities; and those with and without college degrees. He’s also ahead across all income levels and among evangelicals, a crucial voting bloc.
  • Seventy-six percent of likely GOP caucusgoers are considering caucusing for Trump, meaning he is either their first or second choice. On this benchmark, DeSantis trails, with 67 percent, after being tied with Trump in Selzer’s October poll.
  • Trump also leads DeSantis on the critical metric of favorability, with 72 percent saying they view the former president positively—up six points from October. 66 percent say the same about the Florida governor, down 3 points from October.

Iowa has a history of breaking late for underdog contenders, as it did in 2008 and 2012, and to a lesser degree in 2016, when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz outpaced Trump there for a 3 point victory. DeSantis is banking on pulling off a similar upset this time around. But he’s got his work cut out for him. “Trump’s competitive position has improved markedly,” Selzer told the Des Moines Register.

Notable and Quotable 

Kevin McCarthy: “What President Trump needs to do in this campaign, it needs to be about rebuilding, restoring, renewing America. It can’t be about revenge.”

Bob Costa: “He’s talking about retribution, day in and day out.” 

McCarthy: “He needs to stop that. He needs to stop that.”

Costa: “You think he’s going to listen to you saying, ‘Stop that, stop that’? He hasn’t listened to anybody before.” 

McCarthy: “That’s not true. He will adapt when he gets all the facts.”

Exchange between Bob Costa of CBS News and former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, December 10, 2023

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.