Fairly or unfairly, however, questions about Ukraine are destined to dog him throughout the campaign. He should best be prepared to handle them in a straightforward, steady, no-malarkey sort of way.

Like it or not, Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden and his son Hunter have been dragged into President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, and the elder Biden hasn’t handled the controversy well.


Biden can’t control his son’s poor judgment, but he can control how he handles questions about the matter. His responses haven’t been a good look.


When an ill-informed, older man at a town hall in Iowa accused Biden of sending his son to Ukraine during the Obama administration to sell “access to the president,” Biden could have used the opportunity to calmly but forcefully set the record straight. Instead, he attacked the voter as a “damn liar.”


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And when Biden was asked whether he’d comply with a subpoena as part of Trump’s impeachment trial, he could have simply declined to answer a hypothetical question. Instead, he first said that he wouldn’t comply with such a subpoena, undermining the Democrats’ second article of impeachment — obstruction of Congress — and giving cover to Trump administration officials who’ve refused to testify. Then he reversed course, potentially giving comfort to Trump loyalists trying to contrive a rigged Senate trial.


Surely a former vice president, longtime senator and three-time presidential candidate can manage his message better than that.


To be clear, Hunter Biden’s involvement with a Ukrainian energy company while his father was vice president is in no way comparable with Trump’s alleged abuses of power. Less a scandal than a family embarrassment, it falls more into the category of Billy Carter, the ne’er-do-well brother of Jimmy Carter who hawked Billy Beer and lobbied for Libya.


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Hunter Biden is a mixture of impressive feats and bad choices. His career as an attorney and global financier made him a plausible candidate for corporate boards even without his family name. He has also been in and out of drug rehab and was discharged from the Navy Reserves after testing positive for cocaine. If his decision to make some easy money caused his father grief, it would not have been the only time.


The most obvious thing for the candidate to say about his son, who earned tens of thousands of dollars a month serving on the board of the ethically challenged Burisma Holdings, is that he loves his adult children but has limited control over their decisions. Any parent can relate to that.


Biden could also emphasize that he had nothing to do with his son’s hiring, and that as vice president he carried out official U.S. policy to press the Ukrainians to replace and remove a notoriously corrupt prosecutor.


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Biden would be a formidable rival for Trump because he is widely regarded as an experienced, empathetic figure who appeals to working-class voters in key battleground states.


Fairly or unfairly, however, questions about Ukraine are destined to dog him throughout the campaign. He should best be prepared to handle them in a straightforward, steady, no-malarkey sort of way.


This guest editorial was originally published in USA Today, a sister newspaper within Gannett.