Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The Biden conviction

 2024 is already a groundbreaking campaign in terms of presidential felonies. Less than two weeks ago, Donald Trump was convicted of 34 felonies, which would probably be a record even if Trump wasn’t the first and only former president to become a convicted felon. Now, Hunter Biden has also been convicted on all counts, three in this case.

For those who haven’t been paying attention, Hunter Biden was indicted on two counts of lying on a federal background check form and one count of possessing a gun while using or being addicted to illegal drugs. CNN reports that, like Donald Trump, Hunter will be sentenced at a later date, but the maximum penalty is 25 years in prison and a $750,000 fine. He will likely receive a much lighter sentence due to his status as a first-time nonviolent offender.

Photo by niu niu on Unsplash


Again in a circumstance similar to Trump, Hunter was undoubtedly guilty of the acts of which he was accused, but his crimes would likely not have been discovered without a politically-motivated investigation into his background. In the former president’s case, Trump’s political activities drew the attention of New York investigators while it was Hunter’s relationship with President Biden that caused congressional Republicans to closely examine Hunter’s troubled life and ultimately led to the creation of a special prosecutor.

This isn’t to say that either Trump or Hunter should escape punishment. If they did the crime, they should do the time. (And Trump’s crimes while in office and afterward are absolutely fair game for prosecution.) It is fair to say that if either a candidate or someone close to them has been involved in shady dealings, the scrutiny of a presidential campaign is likely to draw it out. There’s a case to be made that this fact is less fair for Hunter, who did not voluntarily subject himself to the national microscope, and there are some pretty funny lines about how the Hunter case is one of the few times that Republicans want minor infractions of gun laws to be prosecuted, but the real lesson to be learned is don’t do crimes.

The bad news may not be over for Hunter. The presidential son was also indicted on six misdemeanor counts of failure to file his tax returns and pay taxes, one felony count of tax evasion, and two felony counts of filing a false return. The trial for those charges is currently scheduled for September 5.

The obvious question is how Hunter’s legal troubles will affect the election. As with Trump, the answer is uncertain.

I wrote when Trump’s verdict was announced, “The one thing that I know for certain is that it won’t make as much difference as it should.” That has so far proved true.

Polling since the verdict has indicated a slight tightening of the race with a typical gain of one to two points for Joe Biden. The lion’s share of the change has been among independents with most Republicans hurtling past another Trump off-ramp and some even favorably comparing the felonious candidate to Jesus Christ.

However, a key difference between Hunter and Trump is that Hunter is not a candidate. Republicans who have been all-in on the Hunter investigation for the past 6-7 years may not grasp this detail, but allow me to reiterate: Hunter Biden will not be on the ballot.

Going further, there is also no firm evidence that implicates Joe Biden in any crime, other than the retention of classified documents. Even in that case, the special counsel did not recommend an indictment, in large part because Biden cooperated in returning the documents in contrast to Donald Trump’s obstruction and attempts to squirrel away the document trove at Mar-A-Lago.

Republican attempts to tie Joe Biden to alleged crimes by Hunter or other Biden family members have fallen flat. Impeachment has a far lower bar than a criminal prosecution even if claims of presidential immunity are not considered, but after the star Republican witness was indicted for lying to the FBI, impeachment died a quick and quiet death.

The bottom line here is that the two criminal convictions are not equal. One is for a presidential candidate and one is for a family member. Republicans are going to take Hunter’s conviction far more seriously than Trump’s, but they will be in the minority on this.

American law follows the biblical admonition that “The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child.” It is only in politics and public opinion that some try to punish individuals for the crimes of family members.

My prediction is that Hunter’s guilty verdict won’t have much effect on the race. People who place a great deal of importance on Hunter are already almost certainly voting for Trump. To the rest of us, he’s like Billy Carter, the ne’er-do-well brother of President Jimmy Carter. Hunter is a sad and pathetic figure who has really messed up his life, but who is only tangentially related to the presidential campaign.

The irony to me is that the hardliners of the law and order party who are so unforgiving when it comes to Hunter, care not a whit about Trump’s character and crimes. They categorically discount any evidence that paints Trump in a negative light. Some may pay lip service to not liking Trump’s “mean tweets” or brashness, but the truth is that I’ve seen very little evidence that they really don’t care for his bad behavior and quite a bit that the worse Trump behaves, the better they like it. It often seems that Trump’s most fervent defenders like to paint themselves as reluctant supporters.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that a felony conviction wouldn’t break the hypnotic hold that Trump has over his personality cult. It also shouldn’t be surprising that MAGA will hold Joe Biden accountable for the actions of his son while refusing to hold Trump accountable for anything.

The legal wrangling won't decide the election. Trump’s supporters won’t abandon him over his convictions and indictments and Hunter’s legal troubles won’t sink his father’s campaign. Trump has to overcome well-known character flaws, the convictions are only the icing on the cake. Joe Biden still has to make a positive case for re-election in addition to pointing out the dangers of a second Trump term.

In fact, I think that Hunter Biden’s conviction may help Joe. By allowing his son to be subjected to the wheels of justice, President Biden undercuts Republican claims about his corruption and his “weaponization” of the Department of Justice. In the end, Hunter and Donald Trump were subjected to the same legal processes regardless of who they were. Biden did not target Trump and he did not protect his son.

Joe Biden has even said that he will not pardon Hunter. Good. Now contrast that to Donald Trump’s partisan and self-serving use of the pardon power which resulted in clemency for such people as Joe Arpaio, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and Charles Kushner.

I am not certain there is a law and order party anymore, but if there is, I’m sure it’s not the Republicans.

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INFLATION DEFLATED: In a new report, the consumer-price index was flat for May, indicating that inflation is easing. The news increases the chances of more interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve.


WSJ ON TRUMP AUTHORITARIANISM: I’ve written extensively about Trump’s plans to expand and abuse executive power if he is returned to office. William Galston of the Wall Street Journal provided more details on how Trump has said in his own words that he will centralize authority in the presidency.

Writes Galston, “One thing is clear: Mr. Trump seeks to weaken or remove many important fetters on presidential power. The framers understood this impulse and worked to protect the people against it. As James Madison wrote in Federalist 47, ‘The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands... may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.’ We’ve been warned.”

When they tell you what they want to do, listen and believe them.

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