The Morning Jolt

Elections

Hunter Biden’s Devastating Influence

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (R) points to some faces in the crowd with his son Hunter as they walk down Pennsylvania Avenue following the inauguration ceremony of President Barack Obama in Washington, January 20, 2009. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day — grab roses or chocolate or something on the way home from work today. They’ll be more expensive tomorrow.

On the menu today: the fair question of whether Hunter Biden cost his father the Democratic nomination; Bernie Sanders warns Democrats not to try any funny business at the convention; and an old hound dog fails to bark.

Did Hunter Biden End Up Derailing His Dad’s Presidential Campaign?

On September 18, 2019, the Washington Post revealed that “the whistleblower complaint that has triggered a tense showdown between the U.S. intelligence community and Congress involves President Trump’s communications with a foreign leader.” This was the first domino to fall in a long sequence of events that lead to the House of Representatives impeaching the president and the Senate acquitting him on votes that were almost, but not quite entirely, divided along party lines.

In the third week of September, Joe Biden enjoyed a ten-point lead in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls. He enjoyed a ten-point lead in the polls in Iowa; though he quickly lost that lead, he remained in the mix of the top finishers throughout the fall. In mid-to-late September, Biden enjoyed a small lead over Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire. Polling in Nevada and South Carolina was less frequent at that time, but the available results suggested Biden enjoyed strong leads in those states, too.

Correlation is not causation. You can point to other reasons why Biden’s lead tumbled, first slowly, then quickly, in the past six months. Biden got older and he doesn’t look or sound like the guy who kept yelling “Malarkey!” during his vice-presidential debate against Paul Ryan. His debate performances haven’t been great. He’s not out of money, but he’s not awash in dough, and he’s up against two billionaires.

But most of these factors were in play in September (although Bloomberg didn’t announce his bid until November). Maybe the voters just started to notice Biden’s weaknesses as a candidate in recent weeks.

Or maybe those weaknesses became particularly vivid in the way Joe Biden handled questions about his son.

The president’s obsessive insistence that Hunter Biden was at the heart of some sort of corruption put a giant spotlight on his arrangement with Burisma and his broader career.

During impeachment, Trump couldn’t make even the mildest concession about the ethics of his actions or show the slightest contrition, insisting he and the Ukrainian president had a “perfect call.”

Biden took a similar position, repeatedly maintaining that his son had done nothing wrong — that his actions weren’t merely legal, but there was no reason to question his judgment or the appearance of a conflict of interest. Earlier this month Biden insisted his son got the Burisma board position, despite no business experience in Ukraine or in the natural-gas industry, because “he’s a very bright guy.”

Throughout the fall and winter, Biden kept having intermittent tense exchanges with reporters and voters, flashing anger that anyone could even imagine his son had done something unethical by taking the position. Back in 2014, figures such as the New York Times editorial board, the U.K.-based Guardian newspaper, a Washington Post columnist, and reportedly even officials within the Obama administration expressed discomfort and concern about Hunter Biden’s lucrative new role with Burisma.

In September, Biden’s irritation showed in an exchange with a Fox News reporter, “Everybody looked at this, and everybody’s looked at it and said there’s nothing there! Ask the right questions!

In December, Biden snapped at a voter and called him a “damn liar,” later adding “I’m not going to comment on anything other than that my son speaks for himself. He’s a 47-year-old man. He didn’t do a single thing that was illegal or wrong.” In a subsequent interview with Mike Allen of Axios, when asked, “Isn’t this something you want to get to the bottom of?,” Biden responded, “No, because I trust my son.”

That was a perfectly understandable answer from a father and an entirely unacceptable answer from a former vice president and a presidential frontrunner. During the fall and into the winter, Hunter Biden continued to demonstrate he was a troubled not-so-young man, with a messy paternity suit, legal fights over child support, past struggles with drugs, and stories of unsavory behavior in strip clubs.

Democrats could see what was coming. Donald Trump and his campaign already contended Joe Biden and his family were a bunch of corrupt, sleazy grifters from the Washington establishment. Hunter Biden was, at minimum, a scandal-ridden ne’er-do-well who had been making money off the family name and associating with shady characters for nearly two decades. Joe Biden wasn’t capable of giving a detailed rebuttal that cleared the air; his default setting was indignation that anyone would sully his son’s good name.

Week after week, month after month, Biden’s reflexive move on the topic of Hunter was to try to shame anyone who raised the issue, contending that the questioner was deliberately or inadvertently distracting from the more significant scandals around Trump and doing the work of the Trump campaign for them. He snapped at Savannah Guthrie, “you don’t know what you’re talking about!” during an interview on February 3. Guthrie is not Sean Hannity.

(One other interesting wrinkle to the Hunter Biden story. Not a single one of Joe Biden’s rivals in the Democratic presidential race used the issue against him.)

All of the problems that arose in the way Joe Biden handled the controversy over his son were always there — the age, the rote and simple answers to questions about complicated issues, the indignation that anyone could believe he wasn’t morally correct. Maybe those traits were destined to surface in one form or another eventually. But those weaknesses hadn’t held Biden back much throughout the spring or summer.

If you subscribe to the idea that Donald Trump feared Joe Biden as his toughest potential general-election opponent — and the polling generally verified that theory throughout most of 2019, both nationally and in swing states — then the top goal of Trump and his team during the Democratic presidential primary would be to do everything they could to ensure the Democrats didn’t nominate Biden.

Other Republicans, such as Rick Scott and Joni Ernst, literally told Iowa Democrats that they shouldn’t nominate Joe Biden. And so far, Democrats are listening!

By Nate Silver’s calculations, Joe Biden has gone from nearly a 50 percent chance of winning the nomination at the beginning of the year to a 16 percent chance now.

Who won the impeachment fight again?

Anybody else want to reevaluate that conventional wisdom that House speaker Nancy Pelosi is a shrewd strategic genius?

Bernie Sanders: Don’t Even Think about Dumping Me at the Convention, Democrats

Last night, Bernie Sanders said “it would be very divisive” if the Democratic convention in Milwaukee did not nominate the candidate who won the largest plurality of votes. “The convention would have to explain to the American people, ‘hey, Candidate X got the most votes, and won the most delegates in the primary process, but we’re not going to give him or her the nomination,’ I think that would be a very divisive moment for the Democratic Party.”

Most Democrats have only the vaguest idea of how quickly time is running out to stop Sanders.

As mentioned on The Editors, unless Sanders’s support spontaneously combusts or he has another heart attack, at this point his worst possible finish is a result such as last cycle’s — staying in the fight all the way through the convention and ending with a strong second. He’s going to be above 15 percent just about everywhere, so he’s going to get at least some delegates just about everywhere. He’s no worse than second just about everywhere. He’s leading in California. He’s starting to lead the national polls. The March 3 Super Tuesday will determine 1,344 delegates and a candidate needs 1,990 to secure the nomination. Two weeks later, the March 17 states determine 577 delegates. One month from now, it will be too late.

An Old Hound Dog Who Isn’t Barking

Some have noticed that Barack and Michelle Obama haven’t endorsed Joe Biden or anyone else, or even given any hint of whether they have a preference among the remaining candidates.

I realize the conventional wisdom is that Hillary Clinton is now nearly universally detested, and that if she endorsed anyone, it would only help Sanders.

But you know who isn’t detested, particularly in Democratic Party circles, and who has been really quiet during this process? Bill Clinton.

You’re telling me if Bill Clinton came out tomorrow and did a rally for, say, Amy Klobuchar and started encouraging his old donors to give to her campaign, that wouldn’t shake up the race? You don’t think there are a chunk of older voters in these upcoming primaries who wouldn’t mind hearing “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” again and to see that bitten lower lip and thumb-and-forefinger television remote channel-changing gesture and pledges to stand up for Americans who “work hard and play by the rules”? Nineties nostalgia is running rampant in our Super Bowl commercials and pop culture — you don’t think there’s some room for it in our politics?

ADDENDUM: If you haven’t seen it already, check out the Mayor Pete Platitude Generator.

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