Purity Test

The New Conservative Purity Test: Impeaching Obama

It’s now the extreme dividing line among the GOP’s base: Do you want to impeach the president or not? Why Republicans with long memories are worried about where all this is headed.

T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty

There was a time not long ago when leaders in the Republican Party favored a cap-and-trade system to deal with the threat of global warming. And there was a time when the party coalesced around the idea of immigration reform. There was a time when it seemed suicidal to much of the party to not raise the debt ceiling.

But each of those issues shifted quickly at some point to become dividing lines for the base, one in which being on the wrong side meant talk-radio ridicule and threats of a primary challenge.

The latest out-of-left field litmus test? Do you want to impeach President Obama, or not?

This particular line entered the bloodstream this week thanks to Sarah Palin, who on Tuesday authored an op-ed on Breitbart News in which she wrote that “Enough is enough of the years of abuse from this president. His unsecured border crisis is the last straw that makes the battered wife say, ‘no mas.’”

On Wednesday, the influential talk-radio host Mark Levin, who has previously called for the president’s impeachment, endorsed Palin’s comments. “She stands with the Framers. So, what is [House Speaker John] Boehner’s answer? What are the Republicans going to do? They’re going to wait for the next election? That doesn’t fix it.”

The notion of an impeachment has created such a flurry that it has become a question that seemingly all Republicans must now answer questions about, whether in the halls of Congress or on the campaign trail. A cadre of top Republicans has pushed back on the idea, even as audio from last month has surfaced of Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee for a hard-fought Senate seat in Iowa, calling for Obama’s impeachment.

Last week, Revive America PAC, a small group that pushes conservative candidates and causes, launched what its president, Bob Adams, described as a $100,000 ad buy on radio and television stations across the country, including CNN.

“There are a lot of members of Congress who say we should just ride out the storm for two more years, but I say that this banana boat capsized a long time ago,” said Adams, a West Virginia-based operative. “When you look at the damage the president has done, it is staggering, and the reason is that no one in Congress is willing to hold him to account.”

Adams added that the $100,000 buy had paid for itself with new donations to his group, which, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, has less than $4,000 in cash on hand.

“When you have an executive who has run amok, it is the solution our Founding Fathers have laid out,” he said. And even if the number of Republicans who are willing to embrace the issue remains small, it is an increasing topic of conversation among the grassroots.

“Impeachment has gone from the crazy I-word to something that is on the top of everyone’s tongue.”

But Republicans with slightly longer memories have called for slow going, mostly because they recall what happened in 1998. Then, the House GOP voted to impeach President Bill Clinton after he was caught lying about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Although the nation was captivated by the swirling scandal, the Republicans overreached with the impeachment proceedings, and the resulting backlash led to smaller-than-expected Republican gains in the midterm elections.

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Although impeachment talk has been bubbling around conservative precincts for some time, the push picked up steam over the course of the last week, mostly due to a maneuver by Boehner and House Republicans that was designed to both pump up Republican excitement and tamp down any overreach. That maneuver—a lawsuit over Obama’s use of executive actions—has been widely mocked on the right, with Levin arguing that it will be dismissed and end up strengthening Obama.

“He is playing with fire because if we lose that suit, what is Obama going to say, Sean?” Levin told fellow talk-radio host Sean Hannity. “Obama is going to say, ‘See that? They take their best shot. They brought a lawsuit. The courts agree with me.’ And off goes the imperial president again. I think John Boehner has been a disastrous Speaker of the House, and this lawsuit idea, which is really out of left field, I think is a mistake.”

Erick Erickson, the maestro behind the right-wing website RedState.com, dismissed calls for impeachment, but also blasted Boehner and House Republicans over the lawsuit, calling it “political theater” and suggesting that the power of the purse was a better way to slow the GOP agenda.

“John Boehner having to run home and cry to mama, i.e. let the courts act as the parent in the squabble, is chiefly a failure of House Republicans to use their ‘most complete and effectual weapon’ against the Senate and president.”

Democrats seized on the issue, calling Palin’s op-ed an attack on Obama’s legitimacy as president. But calls to begin impeachment proceedings are only likely to grow, even as GOP strategists looking ahead to this November and beyond can only cringe.

“Politics is always a concern, but this is about the greater good of our country,” said Adams, pointing to a “Impeach Him Now” petition he hosted online that already has more than 40,000 Facebook likes. “We will let the politicians take care of the politics.”