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Hunter Biden’s Dysfunction Is the Best Thing for His Dad’s Campaign

Attacks on Joe Biden’s son are missing the mark — while keeping the GOP distracted

At the very beginning of this year, when the Democratic primaries were set to kick off, I made the case for Hunter Biden as the chaotic, horny failson who best matched America’s need for an X-factor in the First Family. It didn’t mean I wanted his father, Joe Biden, to take the nomination, but once the former vice president was locked in, and Republicans ramped up their predictable smear campaigns, I realized that my optimism about Hunter had been, if anything, too hedged. 

This man is going to take us over the finish line.   

To begin with, Hunter’s résumé of drug use, sexual adventure and possibly shady business maneuvers — all taken with his grizzled good looks and no-fucks-given aesthetic — places him at the zenith of “dudes rock” culture. No doubt he’s messed around and made lots of mistakes, but with the ineffable cool that has always eluded the needy, grasping Trumps, whose pathological craving for the love or approval absent within the family has branded them as losers for life. Nobody, however loyal to the current White House, could plausibly claim that they’d rather hang out with Don Jr. or Eric. The GOP and right-wing media apparatus do themselves no favors in bringing up Hunter as often as they do; he is neither corrupt enough to put a dent in the Trumps’ own reputation for self-dealing, nor galvanizing as a figure of outrage.

In a way, we’re seeing how much harder it is for reactionaries to run a campaign without someone like Hillary Clinton as a primary antagonist. (No wonder Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is still going after her emails.) They chose Hunter as Joe’s weak spot a long time ago, and they can’t seem to move on despite the ineffectiveness of these attacks. In a country where thousands are dying of COVID-19 every week, nobody cares that Hunter smoked crack. When Trump disparaged him as a coke-addled fuckup in the first presidential debate, Joe pulled off a humanizing response, among his best of the night, speaking to the broader problem of addiction in this country and saying what Trump likely never has: “I’m proud of my son.” 

Most recently, the Murdoch-controlled New York Post ran afoul of Twitter and Facebook guidelines with what the New York Times called an “unsubstantiated” article on the Bidens; the social media platforms moved to block the link or even suspend major accounts such as @TeamTrump for sharing it, citing its inclusion of “hacked materials” allegedly taken from a laptop hard drive. Alongside the sensitive emails and documents on display, the Post published several photos of Hunter that are clearly meant to be compromising in one way or another — the smoking-in-the-bathtub selfie, for instance. But as Trump allies tried to capitalize on this stuff, many more people registered amusement or titillation at the imagery. It was “king shit.”  

Meanwhile, the crackdown on what the MAGA base wanted to be a viral October surprise proved to be a major distraction from their electoral agenda. With fewer than 20 days to swing the 2020 race in their favor, Republicans are screeching about big tech censorship, planning to subpoena the CEO of Twitter. They’ve driven hard into a complex issue that holds little direct appeal to voters right now — again, people are dying in droves — regardless of how far-right bloggers work to hype it up. If you’re not terminally online, it means nothing.

Just like that, the promised damage to Hunter and his dad is lost in the wash of everyday bitching and moaning, the old conservative hobbyhorse of getting mad that Silicon Valley nerds deleted your post.  

But demonizing the mods — or dragging them into Congressional hearings — doesn’t make them sympathetic to your side, and it doesn’t do much to throw your main opponent off-balance. The Hunter narrative already felt underbaked and rather tangential to Joe Biden himself, and it has only strayed further from its intended targets. If your party spends the closing weeks of a pivotal campaign fighting with Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg instead of taking down the challenger who’s actually on the ballot, well, you may have miscalculated your priorities.

Who knew that Hunter Biden would turn out to be a kind of political quicksand for the GOP? The more they struggle to center him in the conversation, the less it helps their cause. Looking forward to the next beefcake picture, guys. That’ll be the one that makes all the difference.