A version of this column appeared first in USA TODAY.
As new revelations underscore the administration's epic incompetence in its handling of the Benghazi disaster and IRS abuses, some Republican voices in the House and Senate, along with pundits of every persuasion, have begun to speculate about "the I word" — impeachment. Even MSNBC, the most unapologetically progressive of all television news networks, has suggested that the president could face a serious effort to remove him from office.
As much as this prospect might excite the right and inspire the faithful with a renewed sense of purpose and unity, conservatives should steer clear of any push for impeachment as a catastrophic miscalculation for their cause. Regardless of damning evidence of dissembling and malfeasance that congressional committees could bring to light, there is no chance of driving the president from office, meaning that efforts to do so will damage the GOP far more consequentially than the administration.
First, a reality check: The Republicans currently control only 45 seats in the U.S. Senate and would therefore need to persuade 22 members of the Democratic caucus to vote to oust a president of their own party in order reach the two-thirds majority the Constitution requires. The possibility of winning these votes is, simply, non-existent. The last time Republicans forced a Senate vote to convict a president of "high crimes and misdemeanors," they didn't win a single Democrat to their cause.
In fact, all three of the serious impeachment drives (against Andrew Johnson in 1868, Richard Nixon in 1974 and Bill Clinton in 1998-99) occurred when the president's opponents controlled both houses of Congress by hefty margins. Nixon resigned before the House or Senate got the chance to cast final votes on the charges against him, but his Republican Party controlled 11 fewer Senate seats than Obama's Democrats today, making the prospect of removal vastly more plausible.
Given the virtual impossibility of winning an impeachment fight, any Republican efforts would be suicidal. A failed attempt at removing the president would only confirm the negative image of the GOP as hyperpartisan radicals more interested in scoring political points than working to address the nation's problems. In the Clinton era, the failed impeachment crusade boosted the incumbent's popularity while undermining support for Republicans and their leader, Newt Gingrich.
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