It’s important to remember that conventional wisdom is not always wise. It emerges, after all, from a cloistered echo chamber in New York City and Washington, D.C., and is constantly reinforced, not corrected, by the chattering class that promotes it. This insularity was perfectly captured by Pauline Kael’s puckish comment after Richard Nixon’s landslide reelection. The New Yorker’s famed film critic was an early observer of America’s growing culture gap. “I only know one person who voted for Nixon,” she said. “Where they are I don't know. They're outside my ken. But sometimes when I'm in a theater I can feel them.”
Today, elites smell them. That is what disgraced FBI man Peter Strzok actually said after a trip to Walmart, and he and his ilk recoil, naturally, from the plebian aroma. But theirs is the nose of a sommelier, not a hunting dog. It failed to sniff out the social movement that elected Donald Trump in 2016, and today it is missing the rage sweeping about half the country. The fury comes from folks who don’t subscribe to the New York Times, let alone the New Yorker, and who don’t habituate yoga studios while carrying NPR tote bags, either. These “deplorables,” to use one memorable description, watch pro football, know when deer season begins, and think they are being badly governed by an unelected caste whose education, expertise, and ideology have not improved the lives of ordinary Americans. They are convinced that corporate suits who are currently lecturing them about race relations have outsourced their jobs and used the profits to buy political influence, as well as grandiose mansions. They know in their gut that this elite class has only contempt for them.
They knew it when they looked at Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Michael Bloomberg, and Beto O’Rourke (but not Bernie Sanders). They like Joe Biden a lot better, perhaps even enough to lift him over the finish line. Joe himself recognizes this appeal and trades on it, emphasizing his working-class roots in Scranton, Pa. When voters think of the tragedies he has suffered, they do more than sympathize. They recognize that pain like his is the great leveler of the human condition. It makes him one with all of us who suffer and still try to live on.
But their doubts about Biden are rising as they learn more about corruption scandals surrounding Joe’s son Hunter and brother, Jim. The conventional wisdom -- on both right and left, among political strategists in both parties -- is that voters care much more about the economy and COVID-19. That’s correct. They do, and the polls show it. But that doesn’t mean the scandals are irrelevant. They matter politically for several reasons, all of them bad for Joe Biden. They imply the following:
- Biden is just another grifting politician who got rich in office;
- Uncle Joe’s persona as average, lower-middle class guy is just a cover story;
- His self-enrichment makes him the “Washington Swamp” incarnate, no different from all the other politicians turned lobbyists; and
- The media is so crooked it won’t honestly tell the public about these problems, lest they vote the wrong way.
These issues are not a distraction from Trump’s central campaign themes. They are his campaign themes and have been since he came down that Trump Tower escalator in 2015 to announce his improbable candidacy.
The connection between these issues and Trump’s closing argument is clearest when Biden’s deals involve Chinese communists. Resistance to China, economically and militarily, is one of Trump’s main policy issues and one of the sharpest divisions in the election. Biden family wheeling-and-dealing reveals the Democratic candidate is deeply enmeshed with Beijing, exemplifying both the Swamp and the globalism Trump is running against.
Mainstream media outlets have buried the corruption story despite growing evidence of Biden family deals in China, Ukraine, Iraq, Kazakhstan, and elsewhere. They let Joe get away with vague, blanket statements that “it is all a smear, Russian disinformation, and Trumpian diversion.” What they should be doing is asking if Biden is specifically denying the authenticity of the Delaware laptop or Tony Bobulinski’s confirmation of the evidence found on it. What the press should be doing is investigating the serious charges, not impugning the motives of the few reporters willing to report it. What they should be doing is lacerating the social media platforms that suppress the story, not suppressing it themselves.
When mainstream media outlets do mention Biden family corruption, they emphasize (correctly) that documents made public so far don’t show much direct involvement by Joe Biden himself, only that of his son and brother. (Bobulinski says he met with Joe Biden twice about the China deals, but that’s only one man’s word. Interestingly, Biden hasn’t specifically denied what he said. There is some evidence of Joe Biden meeting with Hunter’s foreign business partners and of Hunter being paid to arrange such meetings. There is plenty of evidence U.S. officials were concerned about Hunter Biden’s involvement with a shady Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, when his father was vice president in charge of America’s policy toward that country.)
While the media parses the evidence and buries the story, voters are not so quick to dismiss it. Those who have paid attention think, correctly, that no political leader could possibly be as ignorant of the pay-to-play schemes swirling around him as Joe Biden claims he was. They don’t believe Biden’s claim that he never discussed any business with his son. They are wiser than the conventional wisdom.
Sen. Ted Cruz may be right when he says the Biden business shenanigans won’t move many votes. But he may be wrong. They undermine Joe Biden’s central argument that he is the candidate of “character.” They reinforce Trump’s claim that the Swamp must be drained, that career politicians will never do it, and that Biden embodies Washington’s career politicians and their personal enrichment. They reinforce Trump’s claim that America’s main strategic rival, China, is trying to buy influence in Washington, that he is willing to confront it, and that Biden is too compromised and corrupt to confront Beijing, too committed to globalism, not Trump’s “America First” nationalism.
These issues are not peripheral to the presidential campaigns or voters’ concerns. They are among the most consequential issues in American politics. Trump is absolutely right to raise them. The media, which openly seeks Trump’s defeat, knows what is at stake when they spike those stories. The men and women of the Fourth Estate are helping their guy.