Shades of ’98

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May 16, 2013 10:58 a.m.

For everyone whose political memory goes back 15 years, can we not recognize some similarities to 1998? I don’t want to say that President Obama is going to get impeached. I’d bet against it, mainly because it would be so damaging to Republicans. But the Michele Bachmann episode with Mitch McConnell which Brian flagged here points to a deeper pattern. There’s something in the air of the right-wing fever swamp that makes the hunger to impeach a Democratic president just undeniable after the second presidential win. Call it the 6 year itch.I mentioned yesterday how this trio of scandals was a coup politically for Republicans – not just in the way every scandal is a boon for the opposite party – because it’s a perfect solution to one of their primary problems: namely, the huge breach between the Tea Party and professional Republicans who recognize that Tea Party extremism has hurt the GOP terribly, even as its driven base energy, during the last two elections. ‘Obama’s big government oppressing us, persecuting us because we’re conservatives’ is just manna. It feeds into every base Republican fear and belief and because there’s a thread of truth to it, elected Republicans can sing from exactly the same hymn book as Tea Partiers, something they’ve been unable to do for months about immigration, gays, blacks and all the rest.

But here’s the other part of this equation. Once this appetite is whetted, once the conspiracy theories get moving, this isn’t something party leaders will have an easy time turning back. And Congressional Republican leadership is actually far weaker today than it was in ’98 and ’99 when you had Newt Gingrich (admittedly already weakened) and Tom DeLay as Majority Whip.

In 1998-99, Impeachment turned out to be a real disaster for Republicans. They actually managed to lose House seats during the president’s sixth year in office during a reasonably big sex scandal. But it wasn’t like this was a mystery or unexpected. If you were watching polls, monitoring what was happening in the country, it was pretty clear that this was the last thing the country wanted. A lot of Republicans could see that too but the demand from their core supporters in their districts was simply too much to resist. DC also managed to convince themselves that this was – in political terms for the GOP – a good idea.

Obviously, it wasn’t.

I said this was politically a coup for the GOP. But these are fires that this party leadership is generally not able to control. Once that core of voters in GOP Reps’s districts gets it in their head that impeaching the usurper is in reach, the push will be undeniable.

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