Why Hunter Biden won’t matter in 2024

Let’s face it — if there were no Hunter Biden, hardcore Republicans would be pursuing some distant cousin of Joe Biden’s. Any blood relative would do. All they’d need to target the next level of Biden family suspects would be a 23andMe kit.

Now, with summer over and Congress preparing to return to Washington, the real heat is back on Hunter. That’s a problem for Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). September doesn’t bring just fall, but his potential fall. He faces not a just a political headache, but a violent migraine.

While President Biden has been talking about new CHIPS factorieslower prescription drug prices and an economy back on track, McCarthy faces calls from the MAGA elements in his caucus to shut down the government and impeach Joe Biden.

These extreme plans may fire up Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) base of conspiracists, but they’ll backfire catastrophically for Republicans in two key ways in the 2024 election.

First, these efforts will hurt the GOP in crucial presidential battleground states. Let’s remember that the days of national elections are over. In this political era, presidential elections are won and lost in a handful of media markets in eight swing states. It’s not Levittown, New York, that matters; it’s Levittown, Pennsylvania.

Who are the voters in these states? They don’t froth at cable news or pound their fists at editorials in the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. They’re moderate, even anti-partisan. They want good, honest government that focuses on their paychecks, medical expenses, personal safety and the conditions of their roads — not an obsession with impeachment, investigation and inquisition. Those tactics may win cheers at MAGA rallies, but they’re stinging smoke in the eyes of moderates. 

Which brings us to the second problem for Republicans. Actually, there are 18 of them: 18 GOP House members in districts won by Joe Biden. If those members vote to shut down the government and impeach Biden, they’ll energize their base constituents but antagonize their moderates. If they vote against both items, they’ll keep their persuadable moderates but dispirit their base. Either way, winning becomes more complicated.

Speaker McCarthy must decide whom to satisfy. This is harder than threading a needle — with only a four-vote majority, it’s trying to figure out how to split an atom on a quantum level. Up to now, McCarthy has shown an ability to balance the equities, to hold the gavel by his fingernails. But the deeper we go into the 2024 election cycle, the more pressure he will feel, the less give his members will have and the more he may wish for the summer again.

Republicans need a narrative going into a competitive presidential and congressional cycle. They can’t attack Biden for lowering prescription drug costs, an economy that’s growing stronger, or a foreign policy that’s united NATO and weakened Vladimir Putin. So they have to attack him on Hunter Biden ands flimsy allegation of inappropriate materials on a laptop with a chain of custody that remains a total mystery.

They are reduced to Marjorie Taylor Greene showing softcore porn at the House Oversight Committee. I mean, talk about political distractions. Whoever thought C-SPAN would vie with the Playboy Channel for the Adult Video News awards?

The question is how the White House responds to these escalating threats. So far, they’ve done an admirable job. While Republicans talk about closing down government, Biden announces the opening of new factories and a renaissance in American manufacturing. While they attach ideological conditions onto paying for our defense budget, Biden announces lower prescription drug prices.

Fundamentally, political messaging rests on contrast. The White House and the Biden campaign have been able to set that contrast for now. And they’re doing it by letting Marjorie Taylor Greene and company do all the talking about issues that don’t matter to the voters they need to win. 

Like Hunter Biden, for instance. 

Steve Israel represented New York in the U.S. House of Representatives over eight terms and was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now director of the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy Institute of Politics and Global Affairs. Follow him @RepSteveIsrael.

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