Nobody can blame Hunter Biden for seeking a reboot after the 2020 campaign left his image trashed, but so far his redemption tour has been marked by as many misses as hits.
After starting strong with the release of his April 6 memoir, “Beautiful Things,” coupled with an emotional “CBS Morning News” interview, the president’s son was accused this week of benefiting from Biden privilege with a Tulane University speaking gig.
Donald Trump Jr. compared the Tulane guest speakership to Hunter Biden’s position on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian natural gas company, while his father was vice president during the Obama administration.
“He’s got no qualifications, yet again, but that’s never stopped him before, guys,” Donald Trump Jr. said Wednesday in a Rumble video. “Don’t forget, right? He got on the board of a Ukrainian energy company for millions not knowing anything about energy, but Daddy was in charge of Ukraine policy.”
Meanwhile, the British tabloids have been ruthless, running photos this month reportedly from Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop showing him posing in a thong and cavorting with barely clothed women identified as prostitutes, as well as shots of himself with President Biden and family members.
Also not helping: the FBI raid Wednesday on former Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani’s apartment as part of an investigation into whether he failed to register as a foreign agent on behalf of Ukraine, which drew comparisons to the Justice Department’s tax probe into Hunter Biden.
“You have not seen the home of Hunter Biden raided by the FBI with search warrants,” Giuliani attorney Robert Costello said in a statement.
Hunter Biden, 51, whose foreign business dealings and personal escapades have become problematic sidebars of the Biden presidency, has denied any financial wrongdoing while touting his recovery after years of drug and alcohol addiction.
He spent years living in hotel rooms and buying crack from street dealers in between rehabilitation stints, according to his memoir, ultimately destroying his first marriage by cheating on his wife with the widow of his brother Beau.
In May 2019, he married Melissa Cohen, reportedly six days after they met. The couple welcomed a baby boy in March 2020.
His candid bestseller account drew sympathy from Cindy McCain, the widow of Sen. John McCain. Mrs. McCain stood up for Hunter Biden as she recounted her struggle with prescription opioids in a Tuesday interview on the “Skimm’d from the Couch” podcast.
“This is not to be political, and I don’t mean it to be, but in the case of Hunter Biden, whether you like him or not, whether you agree with him or not, I don’t care,” Mrs. McCain said. “But the fact of the matter, they have once again shamed a man who is struggling in addiction, and the media has taken no sense of responsibility about helping him deal with this.”
She added: “Instead, they’ve made sure that he’s a laughingstock of America, and I just find that wrong.”
The problem from an image-rehabilitation standpoint is that Hunter Biden’s problems go well beyond substance abuse, said longtime Washington public relations consultant Craig Shirley.
“There are some things that some people are just stuck with for the rest of their lives. Hunter Biden is stuck with being a sleazy operative for the rest of his life,” said Mr. Shirley, founder and chairman of Shirley & McVicker and a former Republican Party strategist.
Hunter Biden became a liability during the 2020 campaign not because of his drug past but because he reaped millions of dollars from business dealings in China and Ukraine, fueling accusations of influence-trading that exploded in October with the reported discovery of his personal laptop at a Delaware repair shop.
The emails from the hard drive obtained by the New York Post, as well as a Fox News interview with former business associate Tony Bobulinski, suggested that his father was aware of his overseas deals, even though Mr. Biden said he never talked to his son about them.
The scandal failed to gain traction outside the conservative media because of doubts about whether the laptop was really his. Hunter Biden told CBS that the laptop could be his, although he wasn’t sure. But the perception that he traded on his family name to enrich himself has been hard to shake.
Mr. Shirley’s advice: Stay out of the public eye.
“I would tell him to go away and let people forget. That’s the best strategy,” Mr. Shirley said. “That, or start ladling soup for the homeless.”
Although the memoir was a bestseller, the Wednesday report that Hunter Biden would be speaking at Tulane along with eight prominent figures, including former White House coronavirus coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, renewed charges of trading on the family name.
The New Orleans university confirmed that Hunter Biden will serve as one of nine guest speakers for a new online class, “Media Polarization and Public Policy Impacts,” which explores “the current state of the media landscape in the United States and how media polarization, fake news, and the economics of the news business impact public policymaking in Washington, D.C.”
Michael Strecker, Tulane executive director of public relations, emphasized that Hunter Biden will participate as a “guest speaker — not a guest teacher or lecturer,” and that he will not be paid, but the “fake news” narrative quickly became a punchline on the right.
“Hunter is the foremost authority on fake news because no one is better at faking that real news is fake news,” said New York Post columnist Miranda Devine.
The other speakers are New Yorker columnist Susan B. Glasser, Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan, Fox News political analyst Juan Williams, CNN correspondent Kylie Atwood, CBS “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan, New York Times columnist Bret L. Stephens and Howard University professor Michael Fauntroy.
Hunter Biden is hardly the first scandal-plagued presidential relative. Beer-guzzling Billy Carter was a perpetual source of jokes during the Carter administration, and Roger Clinton Jr., former President Bill Clinton’s half brother, was dogged by drug and DUI episodes.
Mr. Shirley, a biographer of former President Ronald Reagan, said President Abraham Lincoln’s son was “a hack political operative who was an embarrassment to his father his whole life.”
“John Adams had a son who was the town drunk,” Mr. Shirley said. “With presidential children, it’s a crapshoot. You never know how they’re going to turn out.”