The impeachment battle rematch that wasn’t
By Peter Baker
In all the hours and hours of speeches at last week’s Democratic National Convention and the first two nights of the Republican National Convention, one word was almost entirely missing: impeachment.
Just six months after President Donald Trump’s trial on charges of high crimes and misdemeanors, what was seen as the titanic battle of a generation has essentially vanished from the political landscape as if it had never happened. Although both sides had once anticipated taking the dispute to the voters, they have instead quietly dropped the matter and moved on.
The case of the disappearing impeachment testifies to how drastically American politics have shifted in such a short time. Instead of focusing on whether Trump abused his power by seeking foreign help to win an election or Democrats abused their power by impeaching him for it, the national conversation is dominated by issues that were barely on the radar screen when the trial ended in February — a pandemic that has killed more than 175,000 Americans, the resulting economic collapse and questions of racial injustice and law and order.
“Voters literally didn’t care about and forgot about impeachment the day after the vote,” said Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster. “Democrats favored it but didn’t think it would accomplish anything” because Senate Republicans would never vote to convict him. Less partisan Americans, she added, “didn’t really understand why he was being impeached, and Republicans thought it was a ‘witch hunt.’ ”
Pollsters generally do not even ask voters about impeachment anymore and candidates report little if any interest in relitigating the clash. The electorate’s views of the episode have long since cemented into place, and neither party sees much of an advantage in dwelling on a moment of history that has possible downsides for each side.
“I’m sure both campaigns have recognized this — that’s not how Americans are likely to decide who they’re going to vote for,” said David H. Winston, a Republican pollster. “They’re looking for solutions here, not charge-countercharge. How are we going to defeat the virus and how are we going to get America working?”
What a difference six months makes. Not long ago, Washington, if not the rest of the nation, was consumed with the fight over whether to remove Trump from office. It was only the third time in American history that a president has been impeached by the House and put on trial in the Senate. Democrats argued that Trump violated his duty by withholding military aid to Ukraine and pressuring its leaders to denigrate his Democratic rivals, but with the exception of Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah could not convince Republicans in the Senate to convict him.
When the trial ended in February, many in both parties expected to retry the case in the fall with voters as the jury. Democrats were expected to focus on Trump’s alleged crimes and Republicans on the assertion that he was being persecuted for partisan reasons.
But when Democrats assembled their lineup of speakers for last week’s convention, none of their top impeachment warriors made the list — not even Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the lead manager, or prosecutor, whose powerful speeches condemning Trump stirred liberals. A search of 40 formal speeches delivered last week found not one mention of the words impeach, impeachment or Ukraine.
Other than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the only major player from the drama who appeared during the convention was Marie L. Yovanovitch, the ambassador to Ukraine who was removed from her post on Trump’s orders because she was painted as an obstacle to the president’s efforts to get what he wanted from the Kyiv government.
Even then, Yovanovitch, who has retired from the career Foreign Service and was making something of a political debut last week, said nothing about the Ukraine matter but instead was simply shown in a video praising former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee. “He is experienced,” she said. “He has made the tough calls.” A casual viewer would have no idea who she was and what role she had in the events that led to the impeachment.
Likewise, the Republican roster of speakers this week includes few of the impeachment figures. The only Republican who mentioned the word impeachment on Monday night was Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of the president’s most stalwart defenders during the House proceedings, and he cited it only in passing to hail Trump’s tenacity.
“He’s taken on the swamp, all of the swamp, the Democrats, the press and the Never Trumpers,” Jordan said in his speech. “And when you take on the swamp, the swamp fights back. They tried the Russia hoax, the Mueller investigation and the fake impeachment. But in spite of this unbelievable opposition, this president has done what he said he would do.”
In an interview on Tuesday, Jordan said it was understandable that impeachment was not highlighted more given the virus and the set-in-concrete views about the affair.
“There’s been some other big issues that have come along in the last year that are obviously critically important, so that’s just a practical issue,” he said. “But I also think so many Americans saw it for what it was, particularly independent-leaning Americans and Republicans. They saw it as the sham that it was.”
On Tuesday night, Pam Bondi, a former attorney general of Florida who served on the president’s defense team during the Senate trial, made no mention of impeachment. But she did advance the distorted version of Biden’s actions in Ukraine that were at the heart of the Trump team’s effort to tarnish him, accusing the former vice president of being the real corrupt candidate.
“Democrats have been lecturing America about integrity for four years while their nominee has been writing the textbook on abuse of power for 40 years,” Bondi said in her speech. “If they want to make this election a choice between who’s saving America and who’s swindling America, bring it on.”