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Why Hunter Biden may not be the slam dunk issue GOP commentators were hoping for

Aides to President Joe Biden had braced for the Republican candidates to pile on the Hunter Biden attacks during the first primary debate. His campaign even drafted a quick-response press release on the matter.

They never had to send it.

For months: “Where’s Hunter?” and “Biden Crime Family” has become a rallying cry of the right. Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy indicates he may move forward this year with an impeachment inquiry against the president over alleged corruption related to Hunter Biden’s activities.

But in the 2024 primaries, the controversy surrounding Hunter Biden falls away. Instead, there is a growing recognition in some corners of the Republican Party — and significantly among former President Donald Trump’s rivals — that the issue may not resonate as much as they once hoped, and that the fixation on it will only serve Trump could help.

“The reason Trump’s opponents don’t talk about it is because talking about the corruption and Biden’s problems plays right into Trump’s whole story,” said Gregg Keller, a Republican strategist in Missouri.

While the former president and his allies have seized on Hunter Biden to paint Trump as a victim of unfair treatment by the federal justice system compared to Biden’s son, none of his primary opponents face similar criminal charges. For those Republicans, Keller said, “I’m not surprised they aren’t talking about it.”

Or as Chuck Coughlin, a veteran political strategist in Arizona, put it, “Do the Republicans realize when they bring up the Hunter Biden stuff that they’re just helping Trump?”

“Why would Trump actually do the job of defending Trump — bringing up the Biden equation — when Hunter Biden has the book thrown at him?” Coughlin said.

So far, they don’t spend much time on it in the primaries — not even in a conservative media ecosystem that dedicates segment after segment to allegations that Biden had profited from his son’s business dealings.

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Mentions of “Hunter Biden” on Fox News and Newsmax skyrocketed this summer, compared to earlier this year, though references to the president’s son peaked on the networks in July, according to an analysis by the Democratic-leaning Media Matters. for America. To date, “Hunter Biden” has been mentioned on air more than 16,400 times this year on the two conservative channels, including more than 2,300 times per network in July. That was the month a conviction deal was dropped on two tax indictments and a gun possession charge that Biden was facing; he has pleaded not guilty to the tax charges.

The noise surrounding Hunter Biden was so loud that leading up to the first primary debate, prominent mainstream media predicted that Biden’s family drama would noticeably take the stage. “Expect to hear a lot about Hunter Biden in the GOP debate,” read one headline. “Inevitable Hunter Biden tirades” predicted another.

But by the end of the night, only two casual references were made to the president’s son, and the Hunter Biden pile-up never materialized. Instead, the candidates attacked the president on inflation and economic policies, his response to the fires in Maui, his age, his policies on the southern borders, and his dealings with Ukraine aides.

The omission was not a one-off, but a reflection of a broader calculation in the campaign that the average American would rather hear them talk about something else and that the Hunter Biden red meat drama may not be such a high-profile political issue for the party , as some leaders have projected.

“There is a consistent majority belief that Hunter Biden has behaved unethically and inappropriately — no matter how you ask — wrong,” said Chris Jackson, head of public polling for Ipsos. “But it doesn’t seem like people outside of the Republican base are blaming Joe Biden for that or saying it indicates a problem with Joe Biden.”

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A Republican presidential campaign adviser said this week that candidates are purposely not spending much time talking about impeaching Biden — or Hunter Biden’s connection to that investigation — because the plan isn’t even a sure thing with Republicans so far. . -controlled house.

“It doesn’t have the votes,” said the adviser, who was left anonymous to discuss internal strategy. “You run the risk of appearing ineffective by saying, ‘We have to do this.’”

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie told ABC News over the weekend that Hunter Biden is “not on the ballot.” And on the primary’s biggest stage yet, the first debate, he didn’t seem to be alone in that assessment.

Fox News’ debate hosts have never asked about the president’s son or possible impeachment proceedings — despite the cable network’s Hunter mentioning Biden relentlessly on its regular programming — indicating that the issue may not resonate as much with a wider audience than regular conservatives. news viewers.

Public opinion polls indicate that there may be little benefit for the Republican candidates in going into this issue. An Ipsos/ABC poll in early August showed 39 percent support for the House opening an impeachment inquiry against Biden (compared to 38 percent opposed). That contrasts with the fact that in November 2019 — a month before Trump’s first impeachment trial began — 51 percent of Americans said his actions against Ukraine were wrong, and he should be impeached and removed from office, Ipsos found. .

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About half of independent voters supported Trump’s impeachment, Jackson said, versus a third of independents at this stage ahead of a possible impeachment of Biden. An Associated Press poll conducted in mid-August found that only 6 percent of respondents described Biden as corrupt, criminal or corrupt in an open-ended question, while 15 percent said so about Trump.

Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters who closely follows Fox News’ coverage, said it’s not surprising that Fox News didn’t want to delve into the Hunter Biden saga during debate night, when viewership was much broader than for the network’s normal evening programming.

“If you don’t have a Ph.D. if you study Sean Hannity or watch his show every night, it’s actually completely incomprehensible to a normal person,” Gertz said of Fox News’ typical discussion of the Hunter Biden storyline. “It is difficult to engage in a debate.”

Coughlin, who left the Republican Party after Trump’s election, said virtually everyone following the situation “has come to the conclusion that Hunter Biden is a very troubled soul and has done stupid things.”

But in light of voters’ lingering economic concerns, a fentanyl problem at the border and other kitchen table issues, continuing a still-lean impeachment case against the president, Coughlin said, will win over persuasive voters, including unaffiliated and soft Republicans.

“The last cycle was a debacle enough, and this would only add to that, to the narrative that they are out of touch and not interested in governing,” Coughlin said of the Republican Party.

“There is always a core Republican base, 30 percent of the primary electorate, that will always gobble up all these things,” he said. “But that’s it. There’s no one else they’re going to convince with this argument.”

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