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MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa — With three jurors in the impeachment trial traipsing about Iowa, you’d expect someone — anyone! — planning to attend the Iowa caucuses to ask the presidential candidates about impeachment.
You’d be wrong.
“It’s a done deal,” said John Wright, 54, after listening to Joe Biden address a small crowd at a fairground here in Marshalltown, in central Iowa. “So people are like, Why would I waste my time?”
In Washington, the Democratic establishment is transfixed by President Trump’s trial. Will there be witnesses? What other information is in John Bolton’s upcoming book?? And how long is this whole thing going to last, anyhow???
But in Iowa, the issue has remained remarkably absent from the Democratic campaign trail. In part, say Iowa Democrats, that’s because the outcome feels almost preordained. They’re well aware that most Republican senators are highly unlikely to vote to remove the president.
“You’d need a number of Republican senators to have an epiphany,” said Marilyn Corbeille, 72, a retired teacher. “I have faith in epiphanies every once in a while, but I’m not going to hold my breath.”
It’s a remarkable shift on an issue that once animated the Democratic base. Before running for president, Tom Steyer built his political brand on impeachment, pouring millions of dollars and nearly two years into his Need to Impeach campaign. He gathered a list of more than eight million supporters — a platform he hoped would become the basis of his presidential campaign.
This fall, as House Democrats debated whether to open an investigation, the pop singer Lizzo tweeted peaches as the internet peddled “ImpeachMINTS” and “Absolute Impeach” T-shirts. And at nearly all of the candidates’ town-hall-style events, a question about whether to move forward with impeachment would almost always pop up.
But for many Democratic voters, the hours of televised arguments in the impeachment trial have faded into the background — just another ripple in the flood of chaos they see streaming out of Washington.
“The Senate Republicans are not going to do anything,” said Amanda Litman, 41, who had traveled from Northern Virginia to volunteer for Mr. Biden. “If they’re not going to do anything we need to beat them at the ballot box.”
This past weekend, as the candidates descended on the state for their brief break between hearings, only Senator Amy Klobuchar proactively brought up the topic.
“I don’t know how my Republican colleagues cannot call for witnesses,” said Ms. Klobuchar, who took a 6 a.m. flight back to Washington today for the trial. “Senator Romney has called for witnesses — they should all be calling for witnesses,” she added, referring to Mitt Romney.
When Senator Bernie Sanders mentioned the trial in his remarks, he cast it as more of an aside than anything else: “A few weeks ago, I would not have told you that I would be spending the last week of the campaign in Washington, D.C.,” he said, lamenting the 20 or 30 events he said his campaign would have held this week if he were not in Washington.
But if any Democratic presidential candidate was going to be asked about impeachment, you would think it would be Mr. Biden.
Mr. Biden is, of course, tied to the inquiry, since Mr. Trump is charged with abusing his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden and his son. Mr. Biden said last week that he would not be part of any “witness swap” deal to force the testimony of key Trump administration officials.
He’s also the only presidential candidate who was involved with the last impeachment trial to transfix Washington, when he joined with fellow Democrats in the Senate to acquit President Bill Clinton of charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in 1999.
You could even argue that an impeachment inquiry was Mr. Biden’s introduction to Washington: He was a 31-year-old first-term lawmaker as the Watergate hearings roiled the capital.
But as he made his way through campaign events on Sunday, the only questions about impeachment came from the horde of reporters trailing him across the state.
“I’ve not seen the manuscript,” Mr. Biden said, referring to Mr. Bolton’s book, as he pushed past a bank of cameras toward the exit after his final event of the day. “I don’t have any idea what’s in the book. But if it in fact contradicts Trump, it’s not a surprise.”
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Carol Roberts from Greendale, Wis., asks:
Mr. Bloomberg has said that if he doesn’t get nominated, he’ll spend $100 million to support whichever Dem. candidate is nominated. How can he do that without exceeding the $2,800 limit?
Thanks, Carol, for an excellent question. At least a few Democratic strategists are eager to learn how, exactly, Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, plans to shift his organization toward the general election if he fails to capture the nomination.
It’s true that individuals can contribute a maximum of $2,800 to a candidate’s general election campaign. But Mr. Bloomberg will not have to give money to the Democratic nominee’s campaign — he can keep his own campaign going and use it to help the nominee or hurt President Trump.
As long as Mr. Bloomberg has an active campaign, he can give unlimited contributions from his multibillion-dollar fortune to himself, because the Federal Election Commission sets no limits on how much individuals can give to their own campaigns. The only restriction is that the amount of money donated has to be reported — a rule that’s made a whole lot of political types awfully excited to see Mr. Bloomberg’s first campaign finance report, which is due at the end of this week.
Could Mr. Bloomberg choose to not drop out of the race, even if it was clear he was not going to be the nominee? Perhaps.
Another option may be for Mr. Bloomberg to transfer his campaign operation into his existing super PAC, which can raise and spend unlimited sums of money.
In 2018, Mr. Bloomberg and his organizations spent more than $112 million, an amount that also includes donations to help Senate candidates and progressive organizations.
His spending this cycle is likely to be many multiples of that amount: Already, he’s spent hundreds of millions of dollars on just advertising. And when I spoke to him this month, he would not rule out dropping $1 billion to defeat Mr. Trump.