Impeachment distracting from Democrats' chaotic presidential primary race

Impeachment distracting from Democrats' chaotic presidential primary race
© Greg Nash

Maybe Democrats aren’t so stupid after all. Maybe the real point of their pointless impeachment hearings is to distract from the even gaudier circus that is their primary contest.

While House Intelligence Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOvernight Defense: GAO finds administration broke law by withholding Ukraine aid | Senate opens Trump trial | Pentagon to resume training Saudi students soon Schiff schedules public hearing with US intel chief  Harris calls for Parnas to testify at Senate trial MORE (D-Calif.) plays ringmaster to a partisan and redundant inquiry, interviewing the same characters over and over hoping that something damning will emerge, underwhelming Democratic candidates are floating around Iowa and New Hampshire, seeking media attention but getting edged out by breathless coverage of the impeachment drama.

Could this be Schiff’s plan? To hide from the electorate the barely-there resume of Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegFormer insurance executive: 'Medicare for all' would eliminate jobs that are 'not needed' Buttigieg says he's proud to be a part of US system amid UK royal family drama Buttigieg asked about 'Mayo Pete' memes by New York Times ed board MORE or the unworkable solutions being promoted by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenEx-Obama official on Sanders-Warren feud: 'I don't think it played out well for either of them' Former Vermont Governor: Sanders 'will play dirty' Hill.TV's Krystal Ball rips Warren over feud with Sanders MORE? To keep all eyes focused on the inquisitions taking place on Capitol Hill while former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenLev Parnas implicates Rick Perry, says Giuliani had him pressure Ukraine to announce Biden probe Ex-Obama official on Sanders-Warren feud: 'I don't think it played out well for either of them' Parnas says he doesn't think that Joe Biden did anything wrong regarding Ukraine MORE struggles to remember where he is? Most important, to obscure from voters the gulf that exists between the increasingly belligerent factions in his party?

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At first, it seemed that House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Defense: GAO finds administration broke law by withholding Ukraine aid | Senate opens Trump trial | Pentagon to resume training Saudi students soon Hillicon Valley: FBI to now notify state officials of cyber breaches | Pelosi rips 'shameful' Facebook | 5G group beefs up lobby team | Spotify unveils playlists for pets Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti on impeachment: 'CNN can see through this nonsense' MORE (D-Calif.) had made a huge mistake by allowing Schiff to launch his impeachment armada. After all, the heart of the controversy – the crux of the whole brouhaha – was that Joe Biden’s son seemingly profited from his father’s position in the Obama administration, in an unappetizing manner.

Tainting not just any candidate, but indeed your party’s front-runner, would appear to be a political boo-boo.

Now the entire nation knows what it did not know before: That Hunter Biden accepted a job from a reportedly corrupt Ukraine oligarch while Joe was the point person for the White House in that notoriously corrupt country. It was a job, everyone agrees, that Hunter appears utterly unqualified for, but which paid more than $60,000 per month.  

That doesn’t pass the smell test. At the least, it raises questions about the ethical behavior of the Obama White House and its occupants. On the other hand, this is the same White House that allowed Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFormer Vermont Governor: Sanders 'will play dirty' NYT: Justice investigating alleged Comey leak of years-old classified info New Hampshire state lawmaker switches support from Warren to Klobuchar MORE, according to the Washington Post, to rake in millions for her family foundation from seven foreign countries (including one that violated an ethics arrangement she signed with President Obama) while she served as  secretary of state.  

But I digress. It’s hard to stay focused on Democratic candidates while impeachment is swirling like a storm cloud over the White House.

And yet, it appears Democratic voters in early primary states are doing just that. They have cast their vote; they don’t care about the impeachment frenzy. That bit of news was reported, oddly, by the New York Times, one of the media’s leading champions for impeachment.  

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In a piece entitled “Why Impeachment Isn’t a Big Deal on the Trail,” reporter Rich Epstein noted that Democratic candidates “aren’t talking about it.” He observes that impeachment is sucking up all the oxygen along the Acela corridor, “But out in the real world, where the presidential campaign is marching on, impeachment is far from the minds of Democrats who are preparing to choose the party’s 2020 nominee.”

We read that, in recent forums, Elizabeth Warren has been asked 140 questions from caucus-goers and likely voters; zero have been about impeachment. Corroboration comes from the Des Moines Register, which published a story noting that only 10 of 321 questions posed to candidates in recent weeks have concerned Schiff’s D.C. circus.

No wonder Rep. Schiff is tweeting energetically about the hearings; he’s hoping someone out there will tune in. He’s hoping to distract from the chaos that is the Democratic presidential primary.

The Iowa caucuses are on February 3, less than 90 days away; the New Hampshire primary follows on February 11. There are still 15 candidates in the race. Nonetheless, voters are still looking for alternatives. Democrats are still searching for someone, anyone, who can beat President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpLev Parnas implicates Rick Perry, says Giuliani had him pressure Ukraine to announce Biden probe Saudi Arabia paid 0 million for cost of US troops in area Parnas claims ex-Trump attorney visited him in jail, asked him to sacrifice himself for president MORE.

Hence the do-si-do by former New York Mayor Michael BloombergMichael Rubens BloombergBloomberg viewed as having best chance to beat Trump in betting market analysis Poll: Trump trails 2020 Democratic contenders in Michigan The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi names impeachment managers as focus shifts to Senate MORE, who may run as a centrist who leans hard left on gun control and climate change, and who has billions to spend.

Hence, too, the continuing flirtation with Hillary Clinton. She recently told an interviewer that “many, many people” are imploring her to run. Waldo has a better chance of turning up in plain sight than those many, many people.

Most recently, former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick joined the race. And then there’s maybe Oprah, or Michelle, or, I don’t know, how about Santa Claus?  

What’s the deal here? Why are newcomers still jumping in this late in the day?

The answer is that no candidate has emerged who has convinced voters that he or she can unify the party and beat Trump. A recent Monmouth survey found that “less than one-third of likely [Iowa] caucusgoers say that they are firmly set on their choice of candidate and most would not be too disappointed if they had to switch their support.”  

Wow, after all that campaigning. That has to be discouraging.

More discouraging, recent polls show that Trump is holding his own in the swing states likely to decide the 2020 election. He beats Warren in those battleground states, and runs close to Joe Biden.

Astonishingly, a plurality of voters in four of those swing states had not yet settled on a candidate.

Democrats I know are heartsick. They are desperate to boot Donald Trump from the Oval Office, but they are pretty sure none of the existing candidates will be able to do that. The party is sharply split between progressives like Warren and Bernie SandersBernie SandersEx-Obama official on Sanders-Warren feud: 'I don't think it played out well for either of them' Former Vermont Governor: Sanders 'will play dirty' Hill.TV's Krystal Ball rips Warren over feud with Sanders MORE
(I-Vt.) and moderates like Biden. One group or the other will be disappointed, which does not bode well for turnout in 2020. 

Maybe focusing on impeachment isn’t such a bad strategy after all.

Liz Peek is a former partner of major bracket Wall Street firm Wertheim & Company. Follow her on Twitter @lizpeek.