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Republicans Are Going to Keep Trying to Make Hunter Biden Happen

Slate 11/22/2022 Ben Mathis-Lilley
Please hear Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan out (again) on the subject of Hunter Biden. Alex Wong/Getty Images © Provided by Slate Please hear Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan out (again) on the subject of Hunter Biden. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Republicans will have a narrow majority in the House next year. It’s going to be Hunter Biden time all the time in Congress in 2023! Let’s explain—and explore.

Who? One of the parties in this story is Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son. The others are the Republican chairs-to-be of the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, pictured above, chairs Judiciary. Kentucky Rep. James Comer chairs Oversight.

What (and when)? The Republican duo said at a press conference last week that they plan to issue subpoenas, dispatch investigators, and hold hearings regarding the younger Biden’s business dealings just as soon as their party is back in power in the House.

Why? This is the big question. As Insider recently wrote, it would not be quite fair to say that Republican claims about Hunter Biden’s alleged malfeasance constitute a full-fledged conspiracy theory. During his father’s vice presidency, Hunter was, in real life, paid and granted equity by Chinese and Ukrainian entities with business interests subject to being affected by the U.S. government. His professional career, more broadly, has long consisted of brokering, lobbying, and consulting jobs for which his familial connections to powerful individuals have been a chief qualification.

Moreover, there have been reports that Hunter Biden is already being investigated by the Department of Justice for having made false statements on tax returns and an application to purchase a gun. His behavior—and the question of whether he’s gotten away with anything illegal because his father was a senator/the vice president/the president—is a fair subject for congressional investigation, by traditional standards.

But Jordan and other Republicans are not obsessed with Hunter Biden because they believe humbly in the ideals of ethical government. Instead, they are taking cues from Donald Trump, who for several years has fixated on a number of fantastical and never-proven accusations that Hunter and Joe Biden are engaged in Deep State corruption together. This idea was originally spawned in the far-right media—Google “Biden crime family,“ or, actually, don’t.

The most consequential of these conspiracy-adjacent allegations is the idea that, as vice president, Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to fire a high-level prosecutor because the prosecutor was investigating a company that Hunter Biden worked with. This claim appears to have things backwards—every non-right wing account of events suggests that the firing of the prosecutor made Hunter Biden’s company more likely to face official scrutiny—but Trump’s obsession with it eventually led to his (first) impeachment.

Thus, some might suggest that using House resources to investigate Hunter Biden would be a strategic mistake. Trump’s repeated public references to complicated right-wing theories (see this rundown of half-explained outbursts by the man during his first debate with the elder Biden) were largely ignored by non-Republican voters in 2020. And his elevation of candidates who share his beliefs about the “stolen” 2020 election are believed to be a main reason for the disappointing GOP performance in the midterms. Newly elected Republican New York Rep. George Santos was likely expressing a belief shared by other incoming members when he posited judiciously on Fox News last week that the party may not want to U-turn its narrow House majority directly back into the Trump Conspiracy Radiation Zone.

However, newly elected New York Rep. George Santos isn’t in charge of the Republican Party. Looney-tunes enthusiasts like Jim Jordan are in charge of the Republican Party! This week’s top Capitol Hill story, actually, is that some Trump supporters in the House—led by Florida Rep. and frequent Fox News guest Matt Gaetz—are claiming they won’t vote for current minority leader Kevin McCarthy to become Speaker because he’s not MAGA enough, despite his full post-Jan. 6 reconciliation with Trump and his willingness to hand some of the most powerful jobs in government over to, for example, Jim Jordan.

Whether or not the push to depose McCarthy goes anywhere, it shows how strongly many right-wingers still believe that their party’s national brand should be “self-inflicted online brain damage.” So continues the hammering of Hunter Biden-related stories by Fox News stars like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, although part of that is also likely due to non-partisan interest in Hunter’s romantic pursuits and history of drug use. We’re talking about cable news here, still.

So—where hence? Probably to a series of hearings about Hunter Biden featuring unreliable witnesses, wild speculation, and complicated conspiracy-guy flowcharts like this one:

A chart displayed in Congress by Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert in 2017. Note that in the lower right quadrant an item that says “Obama” is connected via a winding line to another item that also says “Obama.” Louie Gohmert House office © Louie Gohmert House office A chart displayed in Congress by Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert in 2017. Note that in the lower right quadrant an item that says “Obama” is connected via a winding line to another item that also says “Obama.” Louie Gohmert House office

This Republican impulse is almost rational. Trump and his party won the political upset of a lifetime in 2016 after a campaign in which they brought up Hillary Clinton’s alleged responsibility for in the deaths of State Department employees in Benghazi, Libya—and her use of a private email server for State business—on a daily basis. The playbook has worked before!

But as that election recedes into history, it becomes more and more apparent that Trump and the right don’t have a singular power to “Benghazi” someone into unpopularity. Clinton was a candidate with a uniquely long history in public life. Voters had 25 years to form negative opinions about her before she ran against Trump.

Part of the problem was that she was a liberal woman, a type of human that pays what you might describe as a “lady premium” in American public approval. The mainstream press had also not yet realized how fully Trump would try to take advantage of its sense of obligation to cover (and thus amplify) any allegation made by a major-party candidate, no matter how specious.

But! Part of it, too, was that Clinton did violate transparency rules by using a private email account at the State Department, was one of the founders of a non-profit (the Clinton Foundation) that had been accused of sleazy favor-trading, did attempt to keep the transcripts of speeches she’d given to Goldman Sachs secret, and did operate within an insular tribal network of loyalists that treated the press and public with hostility. She had, additionally, earned her presidential nomination in a heated primary campaign in which she (and her many allies in the Democratic Party) successfully put down a blunt-talking insurgent.

If ever there was a time to run a campaign around the idea that the Democratic candidate was a slippery insider who was up to no good, it was that year, and perhaps only that year. Birtherism didn’t damage Barack Obama’s popularity, and an impeachment process that began with far-right theories about Vince Foster and so forth actually made Bill Clinton more popular than he’d been previously. Hillary Clinton was the exception that proves the rule—and the rule is that swing voters don’t read InfoWars.

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