Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign and the Trump campaign’s role in it was arguably the single biggest political story of the past two-plus years, and it was given new life on Tuesday evening with news that Mueller will testify before Congress in a public setting on July 17.
So you might’ve expected that over the course of four hours of debate on Wednesday and Thursday night, one of the 20 Democratic candidates for president would’ve brought it up. But Mueller was only discussed once — on Wednesday, when moderators asked former Reps. Beto O’Rourke and John Delaney how they’d act on the findings of the Mueller report if elected president. (Delaney later mentioned Mueller only to point out voters care more about “pocketbook issues.”)
The word “impeachment,” which is roiling a healthy debate among House Democrats as several candidates have gone on the record calling for or opposing President Trump’s impeachment, also only came up when moderators asked about it.
Candidates also did not mention on Wednesday or Thursday the credible sexual assault allegation E. Jean Carroll recently made against Trump, or make any mention of the other 21 allegations of sexual misconduct against the president.
Trump himself did come up a lot — but mostly in the context of candidates attacking his inhumane treatment of migrants and economic policies that primarily benefit the wealthy.
Democratic candidates are clearly aware that Trump has lots of vulnerabilities, but are also cognizant that their party retook control of the House last November with a message centered largely around issues like health care. For now, at least, they’re using the same playbook.
Some, however, wanted Democrats to draw a sharper contrast. My colleague Matthew Yglesias tweeted that he would’ve liked to see Democratic candidates invest more energy into making the case against Trump, particularly with respect to his long history of alleged sexual misconduct:
Since the job, at some level, is to go make the case against Donald Trump I would kind of like to see the contenders do a little more to audition for it.— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) June 28, 2019
It’s a very target rich environment meaning there are choices to make about what you emphasize and what you say.
Candidates are likely just keeping their powder dry for now because at this stage of the campaign, they’re focused mainly on trying to make a positive appeal to the American people. There will be plenty of time to try to disqualify Trump based on the findings of the Mueller report, his alleged misconduct with women, and the rest of his record during the general election.
And it’s also the case that even over four hours of debate, there isn’t enough time to talk about everything. Foreign policy, trade, and even climate change, for instance, are also major issues that ended up on the backburner during the two nights of the first debate.
But the complete lack of discussion about Trump’s treatment of women — coming as it did hours after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi verbally shrugged when asked during a news conference about what she planned to do in response to Carroll’s allegation — also says something about how Trump’s misconduct has been normalized.
A credible, corroborated rape allegation is a serious thing. In past eras, it would’ve been an existential threat to a president staying in office. In Trump’s America, that’s no longer the case.