President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, may have saved his father’s campaign from a major headache.
On Tuesday, court documents revealed that Biden planned to plead guilty to a series of federal misdemeanor charges later this week, avoiding trial and quickly ending a years-long push by conservatives to have him prosecuted in at least one case.
Conservatives are likely to continue to pursue the Bidens, particularly as Congress continues to push for evidence about an alleged influence-peddling scheme involving both the president and his son. But from a crisis communications standpoint, experts say Hunter Biden did the right thing.
In pleading guilty, crisis communications experts say news week the younger Biden showed his willingness to stop playing a visible role in the 2024 presidential race, helping to reduce the number of negative stories that have surfaced around his father’s name as he seeks re-election in 2024.
But the decision also lays out all the facts of the case before him and minimizes broader scrutiny about what Biden’s son may or may not have done. By pleading guilty, Hunter Biden stole additional oxygen from his crime narratives, helping to rush the story into obscurity.
“News and political campaigns are based on friction,” Sarah Larson, executive vice president of Pennsylvania-based crisis communications firm Furia Rubel, told Newsweek. “We don’t write stories about things going right. No one is going to read the story about the cat that didn’t get stuck in the tree that day. So, in this particular case, by pleading guilty, Hunter Biden ends that story. He removes that problem. It’s not a story, there’s nothing to report.”
In this case, Larson said, Biden’s decision to take the faster approach also allowed him to take advantage of the increasingly fast pace of the modern news cycle. Where the cases he had worked on in his 10-year career once had staying power, even high-profile cases can disappear from the press in a matter of weeks, if not days.
For the Bidens, the sooner the case was resolved, the better.
“You have to assume that Hunter Biden’s plea deal was designed, at least in part, to prevent a distraction for his father as the campaign intensifies,” James Haggerty, a prominent communications consultant and former aide to the Republican Party, told Newsweek. Former US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. in an email. “Even in a criminal case, the litigants have some control over the timing, and it would be a smart decision to publish the news in a quiet week before the July 4 holiday, with all the public events at that time.”
Compare that to Biden’s main political rival in the 2024 race, Donald Trump, who as a candidate is currently fighting a series of criminal charges and investigations in several states that threaten to upend his campaign well into the next election cycle.
Although he has not yet had the option of reaching an agreement, the former president has contradicted the advice of friends and allies to remain silent during his legal fights, regularly publishing his battles in the press. He has also been handsomely rewarded for it, seeing rises in the polls and helping to rally support from all corners of the Republican base around him after elements of “Trump fatigue” began to surface after the election in midterm of 2022.
His campaign has leaned toward rhetoric that the Justice Department is against him, for example, by working to bring the conversation about his treatment by the criminal justice system to the talking points of candidates who claim to be working to defeat him. That way, Haggerty said, each new incident could be seen not as a detriment, but as an opportunity.
“Given the way his base views these prosecutions, he’s right that a good public relations team could turn these court cases into something positive,” Haggerty said. “If your voters assume you’ve been unfairly targeted, then the more interesting the legal dispute, the more they’ll feel the need to come out and support you. And if you win the charges, then you’re a hero fighting the good fight against prosecutors.”
But that battle is also fraught with danger: The more a candidate talks about crimes he may or may not have committed, the more open he is to being exposed, either by additional information about his criminal past or through rhetoric that could implicate him in more crimes. .
“When you’re working with defendants, you have to try to gauge how realistic they are about the situation,” Montieth Illingworth, a former journalist and now chief executive of his own public relations firm that handles litigation communications. “And someone who is unrealistic also tends to be intemperate, and that intemperate person is not going to take advice. Trump clearly fits squarely in that category. You get the best deal you can, pay whatever the price is, and stay to fight another day. Then you remain silent, because all talk is to further complicate your situation.
But when the government is on the other side of the courtroom, Illingworth said, defendants will have to be ready to match it dollar for dollar before they can even think of leaving it behind. And even then, ultimately, it’s the American public that needs to be won over. With more than a year to go until Election Day, Trump will need to have the stamina to maintain the support he continues to have.
“We are all involved in what [Trump’s] the strategy is and play with what you will get away with or not”, he added. “But this isn’t really about him. This is about us, the American people, and why we would support someone like that.”