I was going to start this column by saying “I have to hand it to the Republicans,” and I almost did, but I didn’t, because I decided I don’t. Have to hand it to them, I mean. See, it’s been crafty, the way they’ve turned the impeachment story over these past few days from “GOP Crazies Want to Impeach Obama” to “Desperate Democrats Falsely Claim GOP Wants to Impeach Obama So They Can Raise Money.” I was about to give them a backhanded salute for pulling that one off, but then I remembered who their target audience is (the Beltway media), and I decided any applause is unearned.
All the same, it’s happened, and it’s worth noting. I was amused by the main item in Mike Allen’s Playbook Tuesday morning. He quoted from a Politico article noting that Democrats are talking impeachment up while Republicans are denying it. Then he quoted a “top GOP leadership aide” who emailed him after reading impeachment coverage in the prior day’s Playbook to say: “I know the Democrats have an intense fundraising interest in this story, but there is zero chance of impeachment. None. Period, full stop.”
Okay. Whatever you say, pal. However…You’re the party that impeached the last Democratic president, over something obviously not germane to the office, when two-thirds of the country was against you from start to finish. You’re also the party with many members, both rank-and-file and office-holding, who have been saying since 2009 that Barack Obama never was the legitimate president, that he was born in Kenya, that ACORN stole the election for him. You’re the party that has tried to convert every act of governmental incompetence or mischief into a high crime and misdemeanor, going back as far as May 2010, when Darrell Issa first mentioned the I-word. And you’re the party with about a dozen (you can peruse this comprehensive list here) candidates out there right now, challengers and incumbents, who refuse to rule out impeachment. And you’re the party in which 57 percent of your members, according to a recent poll, want to impeach Obama. And finally, you’re the party whose third-ranking leader in the House, Steve Scalise, was pushed three times this weekend by Fox News host Chris Wallace to rule out impeachment as John Boehner had, but who three times refused to do so.
But we’re supposed to just forget all that and take our unnamed aide’s word for it. It looks like Mike Allen did just that. You’ll forgive me if I don’t quite believe.
Boehner may be saying no to impeachment, but he has to, and it’s obvious why he has to: He leads the Republican Party in Washington. As such, he needs to persuade the Mike Allen types that his party isn’t bonkers. And he knows that if he were to say it—as opposed to his nutty back-benchers saying it—then it becomes the defining issue of this election cycle, and that’s the last thing he wants, because that means blacks and young people will come out to vote in swarms this November. So House members like Louie Gohmert and Ted Yoho and Blake Farenthold and Jason Chaffetz and Kerry Bentivolio (impeachment would be “a dream come true”) and the rest of them can scream it all they want. Boehner knows that as long as he says no, most of the press will believe him.
But there is, of course, no reason why they should. Even if Boehner means what he says, his track record of bending his caucus to his iron will isn’t exactly without blemish. If fact it’s usually worked in reverse. Remember, he supposedly wanted an immigration bill. And he could get it passed tomorrow if he announced he was bringing it to the floor and calling it a “conscience vote,” which would free the 30 or so Republicans who’d be willing to join nearly every Democrat in voting for it and passing it. But he’s afraid of his right flank and will never do that. He doesn’t run his caucus. His caucus runs him.
So let’s project forward in time. I presume most Republicans will be clever enough to mute impeachment talk before November. Then, afterward, the sluices will open. I used to think that if the Democrats held the Senate, the House Republicans wouldn’t bother, knowing that they could never get a conviction out of the Senate, and so they’d not actually be able to remove Obama from office.
But lately I’m revising that view. The question here is, what’s the point in their minds of impeaching him? If it is a rational point—to remove the high misdemeanant from office—then the above scenario holds water. But I think the point isn’t rational; it’s emotional. To punish him for daring to act like the president. Hoist that big historical asterisk skyward and place it next to his name. Try to ensure that future generations see his as a less-than-legitimate presidency. And, not least, get their right-wing kum-ba-yah-yah’s out, give the base a song they can really dance to.
And what about the ethics of the Democrats raising money off all this? Wait a second. We’re talking about political fund-raising here. There are ethics?! And I wouldn’t be surprised if the Republicans had done exactly the same thing back during the 2006 election. See? Told you I wouldn’t be surprised.
I can hear the rationalistas: no way they’d do it. They’re too smart for that. They know it didn’t work last time. They’ll be too mindful that it might hurt them in 2016. I say nonsense to all that. They’ll do it because it’s who they are. They keep showing us who they are. Someday, Washington might actually believe them.