In Washington, the conversation about impeachment is preceded by a conversation about a conversation about impeachment.
Democrats say Republicans are bring up the I-word to lay the groundwork for impeachment proceedings for high crimes and misdemeanors after the November elections; Republicans say this is nonsense—it is Democrats who are fanning these Clintonian flames in order to paint the GOP as out of touch and energize their base. “A scam,” House Speaker John Boehner called it. A ploy, Karl Rove labeled impeachment talk in his Wall Street Journal column, by a cynical president trying to distract from his failed agenda.
Rove and the Republicans do have a point. Congressional Democrats have used any chatter about impeaching President Obama as their own personal cash register, sending out a slew of fundraising emails warning of an imminent trial. Conservatives have noted a recent study that found that MSNBC mentioned impeachment 448 times in July—that’s once every 22 minutes—while the subject came up just 95 times on Fox News during the same time period.
But travel outside the Beltway, and the conversation about impeachment is far from abstract. In fact, in the remaining Republican primaries across the country, the issue is front-and-center, with GOP candidates signaling that they are more likely than their opponents to remove Obama from the Oval Office.
“I would certainly vote for impeachment,” said Joshua Joel Tucker, a computer systems analyst running for Congress in southeast Kansas against incumbent U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins in the August 5 primary. “If you look up the grounds for impeachment in the Constitution, one of them is malfeasance, which is basically not doing the job you are supposed to do. And I don’t think anybody could say that Obama is doing the job he is supposed to do.”
In the neighboring 4th District, incumbent Mike Pompeo and former Rep. Todd Tiahrt are locked in a fierce battle in which, according to one local newspaper, the need to impeach the president seems to be the only thing they can agree on.
At a recent forum, Pompeo said that the president had engaged in “absolute overreach.” “If such a bill were introduced, I would [vote to impeach]” he said, while Tiahrt said that Obama had broken the law” and proudly noted his votes during his previous turn in Congress to impeach President Bill Clinton.
And in the race for a U.S. Senate seat there, a spokesman for Milton Wolf, the Tea Party-backed doctor challenging longtime lawmaker Pat Roberts, refused to rule out the prospect of impeachment, saying that it would depend on which specific articles passed the House.
“If it is determined that the president violated his oath of office, that would certainly justify impeachment proceedings,” the spokesman said.
But it is not just in deep-red states like Kansas where impeachment talk is a campaign topic. Candidates up and down blue state Michigan have brought it up, and it has become something of a litmus test to separate “constitutional conservatives” from “RINO,” according to Matthew Shepard, a Tea Party leader from the central part of the state.
“True conservatives are mentioning it. And if Congress had any gumption they would have taken care of this by now.”
Indeed, Michigan’s 7th District, in the southern part of the state, is represented by Tim Walberg, who has been calling for Obama’s impeachment since back in 2010, when he said that such a move could force the president to release his birth certificate. His opponent in the August 5 primary, Tea Party-backed Douglas Radcliffe North, floated impeachment in his video announcing his candidacy.
Also in the Wolverine State, Kerry Bentivolio, a first-term congressman and former reindeer farmer, told a gathering of Republicans last year that it would “be a dream come true” to impeach Obama. Alan Arcand, a garage owner in the Upper Peninsula who is challenging incumbent Congressman Dan Benishek, told the The Daily Beast that Congress should hold off on impeaching the president for now—until Attorney General Eric Holder is impeached first.
“The way I see it, if we can’t hold Eric Holder accountable, how are we going to hold Barack Obama accountable?” he said. “This Congress should be held accountable. They are letting these people do whatever they want.”
The impeachment issue is driving campaign narratives even in the relatively liberal precincts of New England. In a race to take on Democratic incumbent Ann Kuster, both Republicans have said that Congress should explore whether or not to impeach Obama, with front-runner Marilinda Garcia telling a town hall meeting just this week that the president ignored “the separation of powers, through executive actions, executive privileges,” and that he was “completely in violation of his constitutional rights and obligations.”
“If it’s an impeachable offense as the process will show, then every member of Congress is also sworn to uphold that and needs to vote appropriately,” Garcia added.
This is not to suggest that should that any of these candidates win, that Obama is in danger of impeachment. Republicans are aware of what happened in 1998, when they pushed to impeach Clinton over his affair with Monica Lewinsky, a move that backfired on them and led to lesser-than-expected Democratic losses at the ballot box.
And besides, as Arcand, one of the few interviewed for this story to urge caution, put it, “If we do that, then it will just mean we got Joe Biden as president.”