A guilty verdict for Hunter Biden means a new conundrum for Trump

Hunter Biden is guilty.

The president’s lone surviving son, 54, walked out of a federal courthouse in Wilmington, Delaware on Tuesday guilty on three felony counts, a day after jurors began their deliberations.

President Joe Biden abruptly changed his schedule and flew to Wilmington after the news broke. In a statement, he vowed to accept the outcome of the trial, and promised not to grant his son a presidential pardon.

“As I said last week, I am the president, but I am also a dad,” the president said in his statement. “Jill and I love our son, and we are so proud of the man he is today.”

“So many families who have had loved ones battle addiction understand the feeling of pride seeing someone you love come out the other side and be so strong and resilient in recovery,” the president continued. “As I also said last week, I will accept the outcome of this case and will continue to respect the judicial process as Hunter considers an appeal. Jill and I will always be there for Hunter and the rest of our family with our love and support. Nothing will ever change that.”

The quiet support of Biden and his wife, Dr Jill Biden, stands in contrast to the mud-slinging which has played out on the sidelines of a Manhattan courthouse where Donald Trump was found guilty of 34 felony counts related to an effort to conceal a hush money scheme through falsified business documents. Prosecutors there successfully convinced a jury that Trump committed his violations in an attempt to benefit his 2016 campaign for president. He was found guilty all counts after months of scrutiny and controversy.

The lack of a unified response from Republicans on Tuesday as the Hunter Biden verdict played out illustrated one thing, however: Donald Trump and the Magasphere were largely unprepared for this outcome. Especially because it came in such close succession with Trump’s conviction in New York, it put the Trump-loving side of the GOP in a tough spot.

Trump himself — usually quick to comment on every twist and turn in politics — had not even commented on Truth Social hours after the verdict was announced. His campaign issued a brief statement; press secretary Karoline Leavitt called the trial “a distraction from the real crimes of the Biden Crime Family”.

Democrats have just been handed a clear counter to Trump’s argument that the justice system is treating him unfairly or holding him to a different standard.

It won’t be enough to convince the former president’s most diehard loyalists, the thousands who still enthusiastically flock to his rallies across the country (most recently in Las Vegas, where a half dozen were hospitalized due to heat-related concerns). It also may not convince some voters who are casting their ballot solely with their wallets and the economy in mind, should Democrats fail to make their case on fighting inflation and bringing back jobs. But what Tuesday’s verdict does represent is a convenient shield for the president and his surrogates as Trump’s legal woes continue through the election season this year.

Whether Joe Biden himself can deliver that message effectively is another story entirely.

Across the country, one very important dynamic is playing out at the state level: Democratic candidates are outperforming Joe Biden in key states. A new Marist College poll of the Ohio Senate race released Tuesday had incumbent Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, up 5 percentage points over Trump-backed challenger Bernie Moreno. Given the typical advantage of incumbents, that means that Republicans have a ways to go in the state.

Elsewhere, Jon Tester has generally led his Republican challenger in rosy-red Montana. And Ruben Gallego continues to lead Kari Lake, the Trump-backed election-denier, in Arizona, while Trump himself generally leads the president in polling of the state.

The first Biden-Trump debate is scheduled for just over two weeks from today. Will both candidates show up? Will it be another 2020-esque shouting match? The importance of that first contest is rising as the stakes of this election — which now may well include Trump’s legal future — keep ramping up.