Throughout last year’s campaign, President Obama assured voters skeptical of his ability to work with Republicans in Congress that his reelection would “break the fever” of implacable obstruction and finally persuade the GOP to submit to the will of the voters. That prediction quickly proved wrong. Instead of breaking, the fever has spiked.
Last week, with the White House struggling to contain scandals from Benghazi to IRS snooping, it culminated in a chorus of Republican calls to impeach Obama. “Of all the great coverups in history, the Pentagon papers, Iran-Contra, Watergate, all the rest of them,” Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma told a radio show host on Thursday, “this … is going to go down as most egregious coverup in American history.” Former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee predicted, “This president will not fill out his full term.” South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham called Benghazi “Obama’s Watergate.”
Right-wing calls to impeach Obama aren’t exactly new. (Salon has compiled 14 other instances.) But the combination of the Benghazi and IRS scandals has given them new force. So, presumably, has the eagerness of the Republican base to see such a fate befall the president they despise—a recent poll showed that half of Republicans favor impeachment.
The inclination of many liberals to fan the flames of impeachment has probably given oxygen to this crusade. Commentators from Jonathan Chait, a few years ago, to Michael Tomasky, just this morning, have predicted a Republican push for impeachment. And while none that I’m aware of has explicitly encouraged this push, many liberals privately view the prospect of a GOP impeachment attempt in the same way that Br’er Rabbit viewed getting tossed in the briar patch—as something that would quickly redound to their benefit, just as the impeachment of Bill Clinton ultimately hurt the GOP in the 1998 elections.
One obvious obstacle is that Democrats control the Senate. While the GOP-led House could initiate impeachment proceedings, they wouldn’t get much further. At least for now. Inhofe indicated, though, that the issue could “endure” and move forward if Republicans take back the Senate in 2014. The combination of all these factors—Republican legislators’ thirst to deliver Obama his comeuppance, pressure from the base, tacit liberal provocation—would suggest that the “fever” is likelier to go higher still than it is to subside.