President Joe Biden’s family story has long been one of his greatest strengths politically. Republicans are starting to think they can turn it into a liability.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has had no shortage of issues on which he’s attacked Biden — immigration, the military or “woke” policies. But speaking to a group of Republicans about parental rights in Tennessee last weekend, he made it more personal.
“Why don’t you spend some time with your granddaughter in Arkansas, or at least recognize her existence before you start worrying about our kids?” DeSantis said.
He also tweeted a jab at Biden on the issue on Friday.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley floated this attack on Thursday as well when she talked about her call for mental competency tests of presidents and quipped that they should include a question about “how many grandchildren you have.”
The 2024 presidential candidates were referencing the child fathered by the president’s son, Hunter, and a woman named Lunden Roberts. Hunter Biden, who has described his relationship with Roberts as a fling while he was battling addiction, recently settled a much-publicized paternity case with Roberts in an Arkansas court.
But in recent comments, the president didn’t count the child among his grandchildren — making him the target of criticism and the subject of ongoing conservative news coverage.
NBC News reached out to the White House, Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee. All declined to comment for this piece.
The attacks on the Bidens over their family are not new. Just this week, Georgia GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene held up nude photos of Hunter Biden during a House Oversight Committee hearing.
That they have now boiled over to the presidential campaign trail and focused on this young girl and her role in the Biden family underscores how Republicans are leaning into a deeply personal issue for the president — and that it isn’t going away. Republicans say it reveals the president’s true colors and exposes the hypocrisy of a president who has made family a central tenet of his political persona.
“It runs counter to the narrative that he tries to create. He talks about being such a great family man, how he calls all of his grandchildren, how he loves his family, how he’s a devout Catholic,” former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in an interview. “And yet, this doesn’t portend. And the thing that’s weird about it is there’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Hunter Biden initially denied he was the father of the child, but in court filings, Roberts said a paternity test “established with scientific certainty” that he was. Hunter Biden recently settled the paternity case with Roberts, who withdrew a request that her daughter take the Biden name. The settlement includes child support, a college fund and an undisclosed number of Hunter Biden’s paintings, which have drawn scrutiny because they fetched up to $500,000 apiece.
The president himself often speaks of his grandchildren publicly and has said he talks of his close relationship to them.
“I have six grandchildren and I’m crazy about them,” Biden said at a Take Your Child to Work Day event at the White House in April. “I speak to them every single day.”
Whether the president should acknowledge the grandchild has also been the subject of conservative talk shows and news panels. Last week, Fox News’ Sean Hannity dispatched a reporter to Batesville, Ark., whose whole report involved asking people on the street how they felt about Biden’s granddaughter and the president “refusing to acknowledge her existence.” In another report, Fox News cameras staked out the entrance to the U.S. Capitol and asked members of Congress whether the president should publicly count the girl among his grandchildren.
A front-page, deeply reported story in The New York Times about the granddaughter followed by a column penned by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd entitled, “It’s Seven Grandkids, Mr. President,” reinvigorated the conversation.
“The president’s cold shoulder — and heart — is counter to every message he has sent for decades, and it’s out of sync with the America he wants to continue to lead,” wrote Dowd.
Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist, said Dowd’s column helped offer Republicans a “roadmap” on how to attack the president over the issue.
“It’s obviously low-hanging fruit for Republicans to reference as they question the authenticity of Biden’s messaging,” Bonjean said.
The Republican National Committee has hit the president repeatedly on the issue, including over social media.
“Biden’s refusal to recognize his own granddaughter is abhorrent and heartbreaking. Biden has no empathy,” RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel tweeted on July 9th.
The group said that wasn’t about to stop.
“Every lie Biden tells, whether that he only has six grandchildren or that his Afghanistan withdrawal was a success, will haunt his campaign,” RNC spokeswoman Emma Vaughn said in a statement. “Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail will continue to hold this failing and dishonest president accountable.”
That’s even as the bulk of the party has offered a muted response to GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s many legal troubles, including having been found liable for sexual abuse, and criminally indicted twice with a third case looming.
“It’s really difficult for them to defend. There are lots of pots calling the kettle black here when it comes to having problems,” Bonjean added. “But I think this is all about Republican primary voters.”
Not all Republicans are on board. Conservative Ann Coulter wrote on Substack: “the idea that a crack-fueled roll in the hay entitles the mother to be treated like an honored member of the family is absurd.”
Focus group guru Frank Luntz, a Republican, cast the criticism as a personalization of politics with which he couldn’t get on board. He’s heard nothing from voters in his focus groups about the criticism facing the president over the issue of his grandchild.
“No one cares,” he said.
And a piece on The New Republic, a liberal publication, castigated the press, arguing Republicans would never be held to the same standard: “That is today’s real media bias. It’s a bias of expectations, and it always mitigates in favor of the people of whom nothing is expected in the first place.”
“Republicans have lost many of their core attacks against Biden as president. So it means that they need politically to develop more attacks on him as a person, as a father, or grandfather, because the attacks on him as president are becoming less effective,” longtime Democratic operative Simon Rosenberg said. “I’m not surprised to see greater investment or some of this ongoing obsessive investment of the Republicans trying to take him down as a man and as a dad and as a grandfather because it’s basically all they have.”
Rosenberg added, “It’s not going to be enough.”