Joe Biden is unwittingly neutralizing Donald Trump’s biggest political negatives. Biden, elected in 2020 as a conventional and noncontroversial pre-Trump figure, is mired in controversy. Questions about his involvement in his son Hunter’s shady foreign business are mounting. On Monday, Devon Archer, Hunter’s former business partner and fellow employee of Ukrainian energy giant Burisma, reportedly testified before the House Oversight Committee that Joe Biden was present on speakerphone more than 20 times when Hunter was meeting with foreign business associates. This contradicts Joe’s repeated claims that he and Hunter never discussed business. Archer is also reported to have said that Mykola Zlochevsky, owner of Burisma, pressured Hunter in an effort to get the U.S. to oust Ukrainian prosecutor-general Viktor Shokin. The prosecutor was then fired in part at the behest of Joe Biden. All this is aside from open questions about possible Justice Department efforts to cover up pertinent evidence and protect the Bidens. While Trump faces scores of federal charges and multiple court cases, Joe Biden stands to lose more politically from his current predicament than does Trump from his own ongoing scandals.

Trump is a shockingly transgressive figure. But shock doesn’t last. In fact, repeated exposure to traumatic stimulus inures you to it. Clinical psychologists call this exposure therapy. In 2023, year eight of ceaseless Trump transgression, Americans are pretty well inured. But Joe Biden as a greedy and unprincipled influence peddler—that’s new. According to a cognitive bias known plainly as the bizarreness effect, unexpected phenomena tend to be more attention worthy and more memorable than ordinary events. Unlike Trump’s legal challenges, Joe Biden’s new troubles are unexpected. For all Trump’s outlandishness, there’s something more salient about Biden’s predicament.

That’s the dime-store psychology of it. But there’s the simple political reality. As the Hunter plot thickens—and it’s already quite thick—President Biden will find it harder and harder to draw a credible contrast between himself and the man he wants to paint as the mortal enemy of American democracy.

Biden is neutralizing Trump’s negatives on two fronts. First, if the most viable alternative to Trump is a president who might have been involved in an influence-peddling racket, voters will be inclined to reweigh the relative faults of the two men. What’s worse: a pathological liar whose belief in his own lies led him to reject the results of a presidential election or a utilitarian liar who might have leveraged the highest offices of government to make millions of dollars off of foreign tycoons and oligarchs and then use his power to cover it up? It’s a depressing question, but not an unreasonable one.

Second, if Biden has in fact used his political power to get rich and systematically cover it up (and this is still very much an if), then Trump’s accusations of a thoroughly crooked establishment start to look more legitimate than voters had previously realized. Surely no one aware of Hunter’s blown-up plea deal (not to mention the coordinated disinformation campaign to bury his incriminating laptop) is thinking that everything looks to be on the up and up in Bidenland. And if a president can exert his will to bend the pillars of justice, how far-fetched is it to wonder whether he did so to sideline his most likely opponent in the next election? It’s no secret among Republicans or Democrats that New York DA Alvin Bragg’s case against Trump is a politically motivated reach. Disaffected Americans may start to see a dark pattern even in cases, such as the Mar-a-Lago classified-documents matter, in which Trump practically launched a sting operation to catch himself.

Yes, Donald Trump is widely and passionately hated. And this hatred, along with genuine horror at the prospect of another Trump presidency, may be all that’s needed to keep him out of the White House. But according to CNN’s Harry Enten, Trump is in far better shape nationally than most people realize. And Joe Biden is working furiously to take the heat off the Republican frontrunner.

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