Yet if you had forgotten this happened, it would be understandable. It basically hasn’t come up at all during the presidential election.
Not a single Democratic presidential campaign ad has mentioned the word “impeach” or “impeachment” since mid-April when former Vice President Joe Biden became the presumptive Democratic nominee, according to data compiled by Kantar Media/CMAG. And it’s not like Biden has made it a big issue, either. (The Biden campaign declined to comment for this piece.)
The Trump campaign ran one ad that mentioned impeachment, going after Biden’s son, Hunter, and his business in Ukraine and saying Democrats wanted to impeach Trump for talking about it. When the Trump campaign has discussed it, as first lady Melania Trump did recently, it’s to attack Democrats for a “sham impeachment.”
“Impeachment was never about persuading voters, it was about upholding the rule of law and holding Donald Trump accountable. You were never going to see it in campaign ads,” said Shripal Shah, vice president of the Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century.
It may not have been all that effective, either. While impeachment preoccupied politically involved Americans for months, polls show that after the initial proceedings, it did little to affect dug-in partisan views.
An October poll by the Democratic firm Navigator found that 53% of registered voters believed Trump had committed crimes, with 86% of Democrats agreeing with that statement, 46% of independents and 15% of Republicans. But those numbers are basically unchanged from November 2019.
“Most Americans already believe Trump committed crimes as president so they don’t need to be reminded. But elections are about what’s going on in people’s lives and, for too many Americans, the crime they’re feeling now is that of his negligence in response to COVID,” said Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson, who is on the advisory board of Navgiator.
And in the months since the House impeached Trump ― and since the Senate acquitted him of the charges in February ― the coronavirus pandemic and economic collapse have largely wiped the issue both from campaign rhetoric and voters’ minds.
Impeachment mattered a great deal and shouldn’t be measured by whether it is being talked about. Max Bergmann, Center for American Progress
But Max Bergmann, director of the Moscow Project at the Center for American Progress, argues that just because impeachment isn’t turning up in ads now doesn’t mean it wasn’t worthwhile.
“Impeachment mattered a great deal and shouldn’t be measured by whether it is being talked about,” he said.
Bergmann argued that impeachment put the issue of Trump’s corruption front and center, “forcing the public to reckon with his behavior [and] further drove home how out of control and corrupt his administration is.”
Impeachment centered around whether, on a July 25 phone call, Trump had pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to look into allegations of wrongdoing by Biden and investigate his son’s business dealings, essentially asking a foreign country to interfere in the 2020 election on his behalf.
During that same phone call, Trump asked Zelensky to explore the conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election. There is no evidence to support this claim, and U.S. intelligence agencies have stood behind the assertion that Russia was the country involved.
Trump’s campaign has been trying to pull off an October surprise, planting last-minute stories in an effort to show that Biden himself was involved in his son’s lobbying. But that effort has failed due to significant questions about the stories’ credibility and a piece by The Wall Street Journal finding no role for the former vice president.
Impeachment, Bergmann said, helped provide context for these controversies and made clear what Trump trying to accomplish with his talk of Hunter Biden’s work.
“By impeaching him over Ukraine and therefore revealing what Trump was up to,” he said, “enabled the whole non-scandal to be discredited a year before the election.”
Ariel Edwards-Levy contributed reporting.