Democrats avoided using the "I" word during the national convention this week. Over the course of four nights, party members blasted the President as a genuine threat to democracy and urged voters to support Joe Biden if they want a leader who can provide a steady hand in confronting the multiple crises that face our country.
Viewers could have walked away from the convention without knowing that just last December, the House of Representatives impeached President Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Congressman Adam Schiff, who was highly praised for his role as House impeachment manager, did not get much airtime during the DNC, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn't mention impeachment during her remarks on Wednesday.
While the Senate ultimately acquitted Trump, with Sen. Mitt Romney being the lone Republican dissenter, the event was historic and Trump joined a short list of three US presidents who have been impeached (the others being Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton).
Glossing over Trump's impeachment in the run up to the election is a mistake. The inquiry brought to light key issues that remain at the heart of the warnings Democrats are now making to voters about President Trump.
In case we've all forgotten, Trump undermined our national security by withholding military aid to Ukraine for weeks before he urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden in a call that was just one part of a much broader campaign by a cabal of Trump advisors to dig up dirt on the former VP. (Trump denied wrongdoing and said in September, "I'm not looking to hurt Biden or even hold him to it.")
Presidents shouldn't be allowed to further their own political interests under the guise of foreign policy. Trump also used his muscle to stifle the congressional investigation by attacking its legitimacy and withholding information. The impeachment process revealed just how far Trump was willing to go in his pursuit of power and why he cannot be trusted to make decisions based on the needs of the nation.
Democrats initially hemmed and hawed when it came to taking action. But when mounting evidence compelled them to initiate the impeachment process, Democrats moved swiftly and stuck to a narrow set of allegations—leaving a huge range of abuses outside the scope of the inquiry. Former National Security Advisor John Bolton, certainly no friend to Democrats, argued in his recent book that Pelosi and her colleagues didn't go nearly far enough given the wide range of abuses that he saw first-hand while working for the President.
Republicans managed to cast the impeachment proceedings as a politically-motivated witch hunt, and Democrats are rightfully terrified of triggering another backlash by harping on about it. But it's important to remember that impeachment -- a Constitutionally mandated mechanism to check the President -- was necessary and legitimate.
The President continues to undermine our country for his own political benefit. Trump, who has ignored scientific expertise as Covid-19 ravages the nation, continues to repeat the claim that it will "go away" or "disappear." The quicker things can reopen and the more he can diminish the fallout, the better he will appear to voters -- or so he seems to think. He has also responded to the cries for criminal justice reform by tapping into the regrettable tradition of white backlash politics and railing against mostly peaceful protesters to stir up racial animosity. He is now issuing almost daily threats to our election, from attacking mail-in voting to making plans that could lead to voter suppression.
Over the last four years, Trump has repeatedly revealed himself to be a president who abuses his power at the expense of needed policy while straining democratic institutions to their breaking point. The Carter Center, which has been monitoring democratic elections overseas to ensure that they are impartial and credible, has now turned its attention to the United States. This isn't a proud moment in American history.
Democrats are trying to build a case for voters that centers around their respect for democracy and their willingness to protect our institutions from irreparable damage. If the party wants to show that it can deliver on this promise, it shouldn't overlook one of the most historic moments of the past year. Democrats took a major political risk then to do what was right and took a principled stand in voting to impeach. Even though the President survived the Senate trial, the process produced an extraordinarily damning record.
Democrats don't need to focus on the impeachment for the next three months, but they should remind voters of what they uncovered last fall and reiterate what they did to check the President. Doing this will only reinforce Biden's campaign message that Trump must be stopped for the sake of our democracy.
If Democrats don't define what the impeachment was about, Trump will do it for them. Back in 1988, George H.W. Bush, then the Republican presidential candidate, worked with campaign adviser Lee Atwater to smear his Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis for being far-left and unpatriotic. Dukakis later learned that his silence in the face of these blistering attacks allowed Republicans to define him. In a post-mortem, Dukakis's campaign admitted that he made a mistake. "Staying silent, I now believe, was a mistake on our part," said Dukakis aide John Sasso. Democrats today might end up repeating the same fatal error.
Before President Trump uses the impeachment as evidence of how radical the Democrats have become, the party should ensure that voters remember exactly why the President poses such a grave threat to the health of our republic.