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Democrats and Republicans Are Tested by Their Fringes

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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Republicans and Democrats share a challenge: staving off the fanatics.

For the Republicans -- leaving aside Donald Trump for the moment -- the test comes from the right-wing House Freedom Caucus threat to impeach Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen. The charges against this official, who is respected by Republicans and Democrats alike, are flimsy. Congress has not impeached an executive branch official in 140 years.

Among Democrats, supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders are waging a campaign aimed at intimidating Hillary Clinton into abandoning any consideration of Tim Kaine as her running mate by depicting the Virginia Senator as an unreconstructed right-winger. Kaine, a former mayor of Richmond and governor, once was believed by some Democrats to be too liberal to win statewide. He opposes capital punishment, supports same-sex marriages, argues for a more equitable tax system and insists that the U.S. can only send forces to fight abroad if war is declared.

Koskinen was a successful business executive, top official at the Office and Management and Budget who guided the response to the worries about the Y2K bug at the turn of the century. He agreed to take over the beleaguered tax agency at the pleading of the Obama administration. With Americans worried about jobs, stagnant wages and the threat of terrorism, wasting time and money on a futile impeachment is the sort of folly that makes the Republican brand so unpopular today. And if Tim Kaine proves unacceptable to Democrats, that party may appear similarly out of touch.

QuickTake The Tea Party

The impeachment fiasco stems from the 2013 reports that the IRS was targeting the tax exempt status of conservative groups. These incidents occurred well before Koskinen was brought in at the end of that year.

But right-wing House members such as Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jason Chaffetz of Utah, channeling a wave of anger toward the IRS, accused Koskinen of lying to Congress and destroying data.

Investigations showed that the targeting by tax authorities was more a matter of bureaucratic ineptitude than political malice. Koskinen didn't lie and the IRS inspector general reported the data destruction was done by lower-level employees.

Even so, Jordan and others intend to force an impeachment vote in September. House Speaker Paul Ryan and the party have enough on their hands with Donald Trump as their likely presidential nominee. This sideshow might convince more voters that the party has gone bonkers.

The campaign against Kaine, who reportedly is on Clinton's short list for running mate, comes from Sanders backers who suggest he wouldn't be a force for liberal change. That misreads not only Kaine's record but the likely influence of a vice president in another Clinton administration. The two criteria for her, and Trump, should be choose a running mate who is qualified to be president -- the Virginia lawmaker easily passes that test -- and for to find a partner the president-to-be would be comfortable governing with. Only the candidate can really assess that.

One left-wing complaint is accurate: Kaine is favorably disposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The trade agreement was negotiated and proposed by President Barack Obama, and is undoubtedly favored by Bill Clinton. Before she faced a primary challenge, Hillary Clinton backed it.

Should they be drummed out of the Democratic Party, too?

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net