Why Hunter Biden's conviction will be harder for Republicans politically: ANALYSIS

Hunter Biden's case could be harder for the GOP to exploit for partisan gain.

June 12, 2024, 3:07 PM

"Apples to ORANGE," read a text back from one campaign staffer for President Joe Biden reacting to news that Hunter Biden, the president's only surviving son, had been found guilty on all three felony gun charges on Wednesday.

It was a dig at former President Donald Trump, mocking his fake tan. But also a clear summary of how the Biden campaign viewed this new verdict. In a campaign punctuated by courtroom trials, their job was to show this one was different from that of the former president, who was found guilty two weeks ago in a Manhattan criminal court on 34 felony counts of falsifying business documents.

And it is different.

Hunter Biden, son of US President Joe Biden, joined by his mother US First Lady Jill Biden (L), exits the J. Caleb Boggs Federal Building in Wilmington, Delaware, June 11, 2024, after he was found guilty.
Ryan Collerd/AFP via Getty Images

First, Hunter Biden is not running for anything. His name will not be on any ballot in November. But more, this case could be harder for Republicans to exploit for partisan gain.

Whereas Republicans had no doubt planned to have a field day should Hunter have been acquitted, his guilty conviction cut against their narrative that the legal system is rigged against them. Plus, the spotlight on addiction in Hunter's case is both sensitive and salient for millions of American families.

Sources and allies to the president tell ABC News that he sees this less as a political liability, and more as a deeply personal issue. The president flew to Delaware after the verdict on Tuesday and was seen embracing his son on the tarmac in Wilmington.

US President Joe Biden hugs his son Hunter Biden upon arrival at Delaware Air National Guard Base in New Castle, Delaware, June 11, 2024, as he travels to Wilmington, Delaware.
Andrew Caballero-reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Unlike Trump, Biden has said repeatedly he will respect the jury's decision even if it was devastating for his family. He has consistently urged all Americans to respect the country's legal system during his volatile election season.

Hunter Biden was convicted for lying about his drug use when filling out a federal form to purchase a gun and then for possessing that gun while an addict. But the fact of his dark struggle with addiction was not a surprise, salacious discovery or something anyone in the Biden family has not talked about already at length. Just the opposite -- Hunter has been brutally honest in the past about his dependence on illegal drugs and effort to get clean.

More than 40 million Americans, one in six adults over 12, reported a substance use disorder, according to the 2022 United States National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Of those, more than 22% had severe cases characterized by "impairment caused by the recurrent use of alcohol or other drugs (or both), including health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home."

Nearly 108,000 people in the U.S. died from drug-involved overdoses in 2022, including from illicit or prescription drugs, according to the National Institutes of Health.

This reality means Republican attempts to bash the Bidens over this conviction could backfire in the court of public opinion. American voters know their country is drowning in addiction and have loved ones struggling too. They are looking for leaders who sympathize and have solutions.

Speaking to the public after the verdict, special counsel David Weiss said, "Ultimately this case was not just about addiction, a disease that haunts families across the United States, including Hunter Biden's family. This case was about the illegal choices the defendant made while in the throes of addiction, his choice to lie on a government form when he bought a gun and the choice to then possess that gun."

That might be true in terms of the law, the jury findings and Hunter Biden's eventual sentencing. But even the Trump campaign seemed to acknowledge that politically this case was tricky for them.

Normally, quick to speak and verbose, Trump himself was noticeably more muted on Tuesday. He posted nothing about Hunter Biden, who has long been a Republican punching bag, on Truth Social.

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Sunset Park Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Las Vegas.
Madeline Carter/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

In one short statement Trump's campaign called this case against Hunter "a distraction." If it were up to them, Hunter Biden and his father would be investigated further based on Hunter's business practices instead. Republicans have long accused Hunter of illegal influence peddling abroad.

Of course, special counsel Weiss, who was originally nominated by Trump, has looked into Hunter Biden's finances extensively and so far, found no evidence of foreign corruption. Though he has charged Hunter on misdemeanor tax-related crimes. That trial is set to start in September

A Republican-led House impeachment inquiry launched 10 months ago also has produced no evidence of wrongdoing by President Biden.

"The politics of this are not going to be clean for Donald Trump and for the Republicans," Kate Bedingfield, former Biden White House communications director, said on CNN on Wednesday after Hunter Biden's verdict. "You have somebody here who has been very vocal and eloquent about his struggles with addiction, in Hunter … I do think for people who have this struggle in their family seeing this play out in this way, I think gives them a link to the Biden family in a way that I think is powerful."

Last week, during an interview with Fox's Sean Hannity, Trump said of Hunter Biden, "I feel very badly for him in terms of the addiction part of what they have right now, because I understand the addiction world." Trump has shared personal stories of his experience with addiction through his brother Fred, who struggled with alcohol.

One of the jurors who handed down the guilty verdict, told ABC News' Terry Moran, "I just think [Hunter] needs help. He needs rehab. In my opinion this is a waste of taxpayers' dollars. They should have fined him."

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks during a campaign event at Girard College in Philadelphia, PA Wednesday May 29, 2024.
Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Ironically, not only do Republicans talk often on the campaign trail about the prevalence of drugs and addiction in the country, but have also pushed for looser restrictions on guns. Many conservatives would like to see courts scrap those federal regulations Hunter Biden violated.

And there is the matter of whether or not to trust and respect the justice system.

The case against Hunter was a federal one, brought by a prosecutor who does actually report to Attorney General Merrick Garland. Even if as a special prosecutor, he is given more leeway and latitude. The hush-money case against Trump was brought and prosecuted locally in New York state court.

As Biden has said, "you can't only respect the results when you win." Or, in this case, it is harder for Republicans to argue the system is fundamentally broken only when their candidates loses.

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