Hunter Biden generated plenty of eye-rolling when his legal team put forward a capacious reading of the Second Amendment in the potential case against him for allegedly lying on his application to purchase a firearm.
A decision written by none other than Justice Clarence Thomas struck down a New York law that limited the rights of the state’s residents to carry guns outside their homes. The case, the legal team for President Biden’s son reportedly argued to federal prosecutors, should negate the prosecution of the president’s son for lying about his drug addiction on a 2018 background check.
The eyes rolled over the fact that the younger Biden was looking to exploit a ruling that his father had decried as contradictory to “both common sense and the Constitution.” Oh, the hypocrisy…
But as a matter of law, the president’s son is welcome to any defense, regardless of whether his dad deplores it or not. The same could be said of Hunter Biden’s defenses on tax charges being considered by prosecutors in Delaware. Just because the president wants to beef up IRS enforcement doesn’t mean his son can’t try to beat the rap.
Similarly, nothing legally precludes the younger Biden and his team from going after his accusers and exploring “defamation lawsuits the team could pursue against the presidential son’s critics, including Fox News, Eric Trump and Rudy Giuliani.” Nor is Hunter Biden legally precluded from fighting the mother of his lovechild from giving the little girl his famous last name.
But should he?
The big story today is about the federal indictment of former President Donald Trump for his many abuses of classified documents. You can find spectacular coverage from my many Dispatch colleagues about the case and its ramifications. And everywhere today you can find lots of discussion about how this will affect the Republican race. I can tell you that part simply: Not much now, maybe a great deal later.
What interests me today, though, is how Democrats are dealing with this moment of politicized justice.
In 2017, then-Sen. Al Franken got thrown overboard as his fellow Democrats were trying to defeat Republican Roy Moore in Alabama’s Senate race. The allegations against Franken for creepy conduct were very different from those against Moore, and the comedian-turned-politician has devoted himself to making that case ever since he stepped down. But step down he did, and thereby helped deliver the otherwise impossible: Doug Jones, an Alabama Senate Democrat.
Franken could have stayed and fought, like Sen. Dianne Feinstein, whose age and infirmity in the Senate is a force multiplier for Republican attacks on President Biden’s age. And since Minnesota’s Democratic governor would appoint a member of the blue team to replace him, Franken helped net his party a key vote in a narrowly divided Senate.
These days, it’s not a Senate race, but a presidential one. And House Republicans are turgid with outrage over Hunter Biden’s many alleged misdeeds, but particularly the claim that the Justice Department in his father’s administration is covering up even more serious crimes.
Their turgidity, of course, seems to exist in correlation to the intensification of Trump’s legal woes. And much like Democrats eight years ago who tried to block their ears to the howls of Republicans about the party’s presidential frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, Democrats are disdainful of claims about the financial dealings of the sitting president’s son.
Republicans aren’t so much defending Trump as they are giving the And Justice for All defense. If we live in a banana republic, why should only one side get to benefit from the end of the rule of law? Democrats scoff, but they scoffed at “what about her emails,” too.
Certainly Republicans may make the same mistake, if many orders of magnitude larger, by nominating someone facing a criminal investigation. They might do so with a convict. The power of wounded pride and the thirst for vengeance do terrible work to human judgment.
Which brings us back to Hunter Biden’s newfound appreciation for a broad reading of the Second Amendment and aggressive legal and public relations approach to the wreckage his years in active addiction left behind.
How the president’s son rationalizes doing anything other than throwing himself at the mercy of the court and accepting whatever punishments come his way is his business. Same for the reasons why he thinks he should be trying to elevate his profile as an artist. But you’d figure that a guy who made millions of dollars off of hawking his father’s name might have the presence of mind to play a part in helping his father win re-election and keep Trump from getting back in the White House.
It’s not fair and it’s not the same. But it is politics, and sheltering the younger Biden is too heavy of a price for his father and their party to pay.
Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.
Biden Job Performance
Average approval: 42.2%
Average disapproval: 55.8%
Net score: -13.6 points
Change from one week ago: no change
Change from one month ago: ↓ 0.8 points
[Average includes: Fox News: 42% approve-58% disapprove; Monmouth: 42% approve-54% disapprove; NPR/PBS/Marist: 45% approve-49% disapprove; CNN: 41% approve-59% disapprove; CBS News: 41% approve-59% disapprove]
TIME OUT: THE HOUSE WITHOUT MIRTH
Writer Alissa Bennett meditates on the personal and the public personae of famous figures on a visit to the Western Massachusetts home of Edith Wharton. Paris Review: “Wharton was frequently accused by both friends and critics of an impulse to reveal much about the lives of others while giving away very little about her own, and the latter is evident in the way she policed her personal spaces. ‘It shall be born in mind,’ she once wrote, ‘that, while the main purpose of a door is to admit, its secondary purpose is to exclude.’ … Walking the property’s grounds, I thought about what it means to be allowed entry into a stranger’s Eden, how impossible it is for the dead to protect themselves from the violence of our curiosity once we are allowed access to their private spaces. … There is a short passage in Ethan Frome that I return to, sometimes, when I feel my curiosity becoming caustic, when my fascination turns invasive, when I begin to run my ghost meter over someone’s life just because I can. ‘I had the feeling,’ the narrator states, ‘that the deeper meaning of the story was in the gaps.’”
CHRISTIE BLUDGEONS TRUMP AS GOP FIELD SWELLS
Politico: “Teflon Trump will, at a minimum, have to contend with an earful from Christie, who’s positioning himself as the most unbridled verbal decapitator of the former president in the GOP primary. That’s no small feat in a field where others are just beginning to get into direct confrontations with the 2024 polling leader… ‘I am going to be very clear — I’m going out there to take out Donald Trump. But here’s why: I want to win, and I don’t want him to win,’ Christie said. … Other Republicans, including DeSantis, the Florida governor, have begun to trade fire with Trump. But Christie made clear he doesn’t think the rest of the field is up to the challenge… Christie plans to run a New Hampshire-focused campaign…calculating that he can better appeal to more moderate Republicans and independents who can vote in the Granite State’s open primary.”
With challenge to former boss, Pence makes history: New York Times: “As Mike Pence formally kicks off his underdog campaign for the White House on Wednesday, he will become something almost unheard-of since the founding of the republic — a former vice president running against the president who originally put him on the ticket. … The closest the country has previously come to a direct contest between running mates was in 1940 when Vice President John Nance Garner, a conservative Texan known as Cactus Jack and no fan of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, waged a campaign for the White House. … Roosevelt played coy all the way up to the Democratic convention, when he finally arranged to be “drafted” to run again. Roosevelt swept to the nomination with 946 delegates. Garner finished third with 61.”
Sununu bows out, citing desire to defeat Trump: Axios: “New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) ruled out running for president in 2024, saying he can have more influence on the race ‘untethered from the limitations of a presidential campaign.’ … Sununu said that if Trump is the Republican nominee, his party will lose. ‘This is indisputable, and I am not willing to let it happen without a fight,’ he wrote. … Sununu called on candidates ‘with no path to victory’ to exit the race by this winter if they are polling in the low single digits. ‘Too many other candidates who have entered this race are simply running to be Trump’s vice president,’ he wrote.”
North Dakota governor gets under saddle as dark horse: AP: “North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a former software entrepreneur who enacted a slate of laws this year advancing conservative policies on culture war issues, announced his candidacy for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination on Wednesday. … Known to few outside North Dakota, Burgum faces an immense challenge…”
RNC sets August debate criteria: FiveThirtyEight: “To make the debate, the RNC will require candidates to meet four separate requirements… A candidate must have earned 1 percent support in three national polls, or in two national polls and at least one poll of the GOP’s first four states, recognized by the RNC and conducted in July and August… [A] candidate must have at least 40,000 unique contributors to their presidential campaign committee, with at least 200 from 20 states and/or territories. A candidate must sign…a pledge to support the GOP’s eventual nominee… In its release, the RNC said it would only consider polls conducted by organizations unaffiliated with a candidate or a candidate committee that sampled at least ‘800 registered likely Republican voters.’ This significantly limits the number of polls under consideration.”
BIDEN BEGINS AD BLITZ TO REHAB ECONOMIC CRED
Politico: “The lifting of the debt ceiling might not seem like bumper sticker material for a campaign. But President Joe Biden’s aides believe voters will reward him for working across the aisle to do it. … The Biden team and the Democratic National Committee are launching a six-figure ad campaign Monday touting the bipartisan agreement that the president reached with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. … The ad campaign reflects the strategy that the Biden team has used since 2020 to portray the president as the responsible adult in the room while depicting his Republican opponents as extreme. But the spots also suggest that the president and his team know they have work to do in selling his agenda as Biden continues to receive poor marks from voters on his handling of the economy.”
Dems get serious about courting rural voters: Bloomberg: “[The] perception of abandonment, particularly on economic issues, has contributed to a decades-long erosion of rural voters from the Democratic coalition. Now, there is fresh urgency for the party to try to win them back. … Rural residents could prove crucial in the 2024 election cycle. The presidential contest will hinge on results in swing states including Wisconsin, which has a significant rural population. … The party’s trouble with the voters runs deep, reflecting Democrats’ focus on progressive social priorities and the sense that they did nothing to stem job losses in rural areas. … While Republicans appeal to rural voters on expanding gun rights and limiting abortion, Democrats can win on the economy and their longstanding support for safety net programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, [pollster] Celinda Lake said.”
White House boosts Harris as POTUS age concerns persist: U.S. News: “The underlying message was one that puts President Joe Biden’s campaign in an awkward quandary. The 80-year-old president insists he is up for the rigors of a second term, which would end with him at age 86 if he completed it. But at the same time, the White House and the Biden-Harris campaign are elevating Harris’ profile to give voters a real-time idea of what it would be like to have not just the first woman, but the first woman of color, leading the country. … [M]ore recently, Harris has been the main point person in the administration for arguably the most potent issue the Democrats have heading into the 2024 elections: abortion rights.”
Biden re-election campaign to lean heavily on surrogates: NBC News: “To win re-election, President Joe Biden plans to tap an expansive stable of friends and allies to go where he can’t, say what he won’t and be what he’ll never be. Biden’s nascent re-election campaign has invested early…in what veteran operatives say is an unusually robust operation to tap the star power of the Democratic Party, most of which is outside the White House. … But surrogates also have their own interests and proclivities — and a well-documented tendency to go off-script. And an overreliance on them could open Biden to criticism that he’s reprising the so-called ‘basement campaign’ of 2020 because he’s unable or unwilling to hit the stump himself.”
Cornel West launches left-wing third-party bid: Reuters: “Cornel West, a progressive political activist … is launching a third-party 2024 bid for the U.S. presidency. West said on Twitter that he was running for the White House with the small, leftist People’s Party… West, 70, …. whose works have focused on race and class in U.S. society, enters the race with little hope of winning the White House but with a chance of siphoning votes from Democratic President Joe Biden in next year’s election.”
SCOTUS DECISION COULD PROMPT REDISTRICTING REDO
Cook Political Report: “The landmark decision in Allen v. Milligan could reverberate across the Deep South, leading to the creation of new Black-majority, strongly Democratic seats in multiple states. … Politically, the ruling could shake up the 2024 battle for the House, send shockwaves beyond Alabama and potentially offset a new gerrymander Republicans are likely to impose in North Carolina. The key states to watch are Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina. … Plaintiffs in a similar Louisiana case have demonstrated it’s also possible to draw a second Black majority district in the Pelican State… Although racial gerrymandering cases in Georgia and South Carolina have been working their way through federal courts, these two states are murkier. … Allen v. Milligan could also force Republicans to rethink their approach in North Carolina.”
U.S. education system earns failing marks on civics and history—City Journal
GOP cautiously optimistic about Senate recruitment—Politico
Cratering Philly turnout worries Dems ahead of 2024—Washington Post
Scandal-plagued Robinson could cost GOP North Carolina governorship—The Dispatch
How Pat Robertson changed media, politics, and faith in America —New York Times
WITHIN EARSHOT: COMPLEMENT SANDWICHES
“I read that Mike Pence can be like Mayonnaise on toast. There’s a lot of Iowa bacon and maybe a little Tabasco sauce on that toast.”—Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston warms up the crowd ahead of the former Vice President’s presidential campaign launch in Ankeny, Iowa.
“I love peanut butter and pickle sandwiches. It’s a divisive issue, and if it were ever used in an attack ad against me, it probably would be the end of my political career.”—Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger serves up some opposition research in an interview with Roll Call.
“As presidential campaigns are expensive, and you would be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of donors who could rationally believe Governor Christie can win the Republican nominee, the question turns to where he is actually getting the money to run a national campaign. What is the likelihood that one or more serious candidates is directing funds from their donors to Christie’s campaign—so that he can say and do out loud that which they feel they cannot in the Republican primaries?”—Ken Levine, Lionville, Pennsylvania
A very interesting idea, Mr. Levine! But probably one that isn’t necessary given the nature of campaign finance laws and the vast sums of money being tossed around. In politics, money follows more than it leads. Donors backing other candidates have seen or may yet see the value of Christie as a disruptor in the race, and wouldn’t need instructions from another candidate to do so. Plus, Christie doesn’t need that much money—relatively speaking—to run the kind of race he is undertaking. He’s got to register with voters in New Hampshire, which won’t be free, but is more manageable than having to be ready today to dump money into South Carolina and Super Tuesday states. And the most important work Christie has to do is very cheap: Being a TV star. Christie has to get in the news and stay there as Donald Trump’s tormentor in chief. He will have to earn, not buy an increase in his national profile.
“In your appearances on TV you have been very condescending about [former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley]. Why? I think she is a good candidate who presents her views very well. Why are so negative about her?”—Karen Morrow, Tampa, Florida
I promise any condescension is unintentional, and I am sorry for giving any other impression. She has been a public servant of distinction and I hold her in no contempt. But I don’t think she has run well and has made many missteps since leaving the Trump administration. Most of those errors have arisen from the same place of calculation. To wit: In a recent town hall, Haley was asked about whether she supported state bans on elective abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy. Haley replied that she wouldn’t say what she believed and turned the questions around into a criticism of the media. It’s a well-constructed evasion, for sure. But at this point in the nominating process, voters are looking for candidates that they like and believe in, not the ones that are the most cunning in their evasions. It’s certainly true that such restrictions will be a political liability for the Republican nominee for president, whomever it is, with many swing voters. It’s also certain that any Republican nominee will sound equivocal in discussing the matter in an effort to quell those concerns. But that is a matter for next summer, not this one. Now, voters want to hear who these people really are and what they really believe in order to determine whether they will be able to stomach all of the equivocation and backpedaling that will invariably come. Haley is trying to sound like a stateswoman but often seems like she lacks conviction, at least outside of foreign policy matters. Haley is trying to preserve herself as a viable alternative if Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis knock each other out of the race, but she is not the only one. She’s not even the only one from her home state. Her candidacy lacks a clear narrative and her campaign seems unable to answer the question of why she is running, focusing on overtly strategic efforts instead. But I will keep my ears open and will do better to avoid any appearance of contempt in my analysis.
You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes and, always, good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission private. My colleague, the perspicacious Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!
CUTLINE CONTEST: THINK OF THE UPSIDE
An avalanche of excellence for this week’s contest! Alas, for many of you, the snow piled up in similar places. Our policy is that, barring a clear stylistic advantage, the advantage goes to the first entrant. Well done, people!
“I know his phone’s upside down, but you tell him his polling numbers aren’t any good.”—Paul Williams, Shaker Heights, Ohio
Winner, Probably Bing Division:
“I just Googled her; it says she’s my wife.”—Dennis Zickerman, Sierra Vista, Arizona
Winner, Highway to the Danger Zone Division:
“No, I’m not happy. I can’t remember the password to this damn thing, and someone stole my sunglasses.”—Michael Smith, Georgetown, Kentucky
Send your proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the best entrants for each week and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun!
PLAY STUPID GAMES…
Cowboy State Daily: “It’s been said that you can’t fix stupid, but hang on for this one. If a certain tourist keeps up his shenanigans in Yellowstone Park, bears there might get a chance to permanently fix his stupid. … In a colossal display of unmitigated idiocy…a man [jumps] out of his car parked next to a bear (said to be a black bear) just a few yards from the road in Yellowstone. As his buddy shoots video from the passenger seat, he…runs directly at the bear, growling, grunting and making barking noises. The baffled bear turns tail and runs off into some nearby trees. Then the guy turns back toward the camera, rips off his shirt, flexes and does what appears to be a poor impression of a silverback gorilla. … It’s indicated that the incident isn’t this aspiring emperor of idiots’ first such offence… For his own sake, the perpetrator should probably hope that park rangers catch up with him before he decides to take a run at a mature grizzly…”
Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics. Nate Moore and Jae Grace contributed to this report.