David Axelrod explains why impeachment won't be an issue in November, and how the politics of 'intervening events' like coronavirus and the George Floyd protests could change the election
David Axelrod served in the White House under Obama and as the chief strategist for both of his presidential campaigns.

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Back in the winter, David Axelrod said voters don’t care about impeachment as much as DC’s political class.

Axelrod, the chief strategist for former President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, was also adamant that impeachment was unlikely to become a central issue in the 2020 campaign.

In an interview with Insider, Axelrod explained why he ended up being right on impeachment, and what it’s like to deal with “intervening events” on a presidential campaign.

“We were talking about impeachment then, then we were talking about the virus and the economic downturn, then we had George Floyd — there’ll be some other events [between now and Nov. 3], including, you know, we don’t know where the virus is going.” 

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Remember impeachment? 

Just over a month before coronavirus lockdowns began going into effect, President Donald Trump was acquitted by the Senate in his impeachment trial.

Despite Trump being only the fourth US president ever to be impeached by the House, the potential asterisk on his presidency has so far rarely come up in the 2020 presidential campaign.

Former Obama chief strategist David Axelrod predicted the trial’s lack of consequence for the election even before Trump’s acquittal. 

In an interview with Insider, Axelrod explained why he ended up being right, and how even with the coronavirus and protests following the death of George Floyd continue to dominate the news, something entirely different could end up becoming a defining issue in the race between Biden and Trump.

“I think that, first of all, the Russia story had been baked into the cake,” Axelrod said of the preamble to impeachment, the Special Counsel Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Election.

“Mueller made everything after an anti-climax,” he continued. “Everyone knew what the result in the Senate [impeachment trial] was going to be, and the fact that Trump would do extraordinary things that were outside of democratic norms — that he would flout rules, laws, norms and institutions — is now, I think, sort of also baked in the cake.

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“People understand that’s who he is.”

Axelrod, who currently directs the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, underscored how that Trump fatigue also boomerangs back onto the president, whose campaign is looking to define Joe Biden in order to make the campaign something other than a referendum on Trump.

“Whereas the things that [Trump]’s dealing with now, like the virus, has very much impacted on people’s lives,” Axelrod said, noting the economic damage of the pandemic. 

“The George Floyd thing goes to a fundamental quality of Trump’s, which is divisiveness,” he added.

Perhaps the Hunter Biden aspect of the impeachment saga will return in the Trump campaign’s messaging as a way to define the opponent, Axelrod said

Yet if history — let alone this year — is any indicator, Axelrod said external events could have a way of crowding everything else out and end up defining the race.

“My bigger point is, there are gonna be intervening events between now and November, some of which we have no idea about now,” Axelrod said, recalling the financial crash that scrambled Obama’s first run.

“An example would be in 2008, when Lehman Brothers collapsed,” Axelrod said. 

“That 10 days, from the time Lehman Brothers collapsed to the first debate, was really when Obama won the election, because people looked at the way he handled that, and they said, ‘Yeah, I think he’s ready. I think he could be president.'” 

Instead of overpreparing for static narratives, Axelrod pointed to the 2008 campaign and 2020’s torrent of events as reasons to stay nimble in a presidential campaign. 

“You have to understand what your message is, and you want to react within your message,” he said. 

“But part of it is, you know, I’ve always viewed presidential campaigns as kind of long oral exams where you are given different tests and challenges, and the public watches how you deal with them.”

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David Axelrod explains why impeachment won't be an issue in November, and how the politics of 'intervening events' like coronavirus and the George Floyd protests could change the election

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