For a few political cycles now, Republican leaders have strained to distance themselves from some in their midst and focus on the basics to secure and extend their power in Washington: The less-than-sweeping economic recovery and President Obama’s foundering, as they see it, at home and abroad.
And those in their midst have continued to define the party in ways that drew an injurious response from key voter groups. There was the dust-up in 2012 when Todd Akin, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Missouri, defended his opposition to abortion by positing that women’s bodies blocked conception resulting from rape. There were the myriad laws aimed at immigrants in the country illegally that insulted many Latino voters. There was the fight against gay marriage, which distanced the party from younger voters.
And now, with a takeover of the Senate achingly close to Republicans’ grasp this year and a presidential campaign on the horizon, those in their midst are threatening to define the party with yet another tangent.
Impeaching President Obama.
The loudest voice for invoking the historically high bar of removing a president from office was Sarah Palin’s. The former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee called for Obama’s impeachment in a column on the Breitbart.com website this week.
"Enough is enough of the years of abuse from this president,” she declared. “His unsecured border crisis is the last straw that makes the battered wife say, 'no mas.'"
She impugned Obama with perhaps the harshest indictment that can be made of a president, that he did not care about the troops under his command.
“Discrediting the price paid for America’s exceptionalism over our history, he’s given false hope and taxpayer’s change to millions of foreign nationals who want to sneak into our country illegally,” Palin wrote.
And for good measure, her racially-fraught missive impugned those seeking to enter the country, many of them children fleeing violence and danger in their home nations.
“Because of Obama’s purposeful dereliction of duty an untold number of illegal immigrants will kick off their shoes and come on in,” she said, later adding that many Americans “now feel like strangers in their own land.”
Though she insisted that “the many impeachable offenses of Barack Obama can no longer be ignored,” she didn’t exactly say what they were other than to make a vague reference to changes he has wrought in the healthcare law and his plans to “meddle in the U.S. court system” by appointing judges (a president’s prerogative).
House Speaker John A. Boehner, asked about Palin’s proposal, eviscerated it with two icy words.
“I disagree,” he said.
While Palin and a small number of Republicans were jumping aboard the impeachment bandwagon, Boehner and his supporters were trying to cast themselves as the sane alternative by vowing to sue the president over his healthcare plan, in effect going to DEFCON 1 but not nuclear.
The message: We will hold the president accountable, but we’re not going off the deep end to do it.
The impeachment mini-movement poses some threat to individual Republicans in areas where anti-Obama sentiment is strongest, since candidates could now be called on to join up or risk primary challenges in 2016. In close contests this year, Republicans could be caught between the sentiment of the base and the broader general electorate: Democrats are already using Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst’s January suggestion that Obama could be impeached to try to cast her as an extremist candidate aligned with Palin.
Were it to gain steam, however, the effort poses a larger definitional risk to the Republican Party, as the Akin statement and the anti-illegal immigration and anti-gay rights efforts did before, by alienating the broad political middle from the party’s impeachment believers and non-believers alike.
Those at the political extremes tend to get the attention but not much love from voters, who don’t like the sort of political messiness and rancor that an impeachment effort entails. That fact is well known by Boehner and those backing the less pointed alternative. Even at the height of the 1990s effort to throw him from office, President Clinton maintained popularity ratings that Obama would drool over.
Republicans then had an easier argument to make — Clinton’s actions during the investigation into his personal affairs — but saw voters who liked him swarm to his side.
If elements of the party push for Obama’s impeachment, the likeliest to fly to his defense would be women, Latinos and the young, majorities of which have felt the strongest affinity for Obama. The very people, that is, that the Republican Party has worked to win back since they were previously alienated by those in their midst.
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