President Obama is in the middle of his sixth year in the White House and is not exactly surfing a huge wave of popular support. With less than three months to go before the midterm election, Obama's poll numbers are stuck in the low 40s. His party is poised to lose a few seats in the House of Representatives in November and may even lose control of the Senate. It is, however, more likely that they will hold onto a very narrow lead in the upper chamber of the legislature. Obama has always had many critics on the right who were never going to be happy with the president. In addition, many progressive are disappointed with the president's inability to live up to their extremely high hopes.
In most regards, none of this is unusual. Second terms are often difficult for presidents. Presidential administrations often seem to run out of energy or ideas as they enter their sixth, seventh and eighth year, while second-term presidents rarely enjoy as much support from the legislature as they did during their first term. Similarly, leaders from the president's own party often seek to distance themselves from the president in anticipation of their own presidential campaigns. We are seeing all of this occur now. Opposition from Republicans in Congress, efforts by likely Democratic nominee in 2016 Hillary Clinton to separate herself from the Obama record or simply the absence of exciting new proposals coming from the White House are hardly without precedent.
As Obama's presidency winds down, one of the stranger stories to emerge has been the impeachment -- or, more accurately, the Republicans threatening impeachment but not really meaning it -- saga. Impeaching a president is difficult, as it requires a vote by the House of Representatives followed by a trial and vote by the Senate. Two presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, have been impeached. Neither were convicted by the Senate. As long as the Democrats retain control of the Senate, or have close to 50 votes there, it is almost certain that efforts to impeach Obama would lead to the same result.
While it may be reassuring to some to recognize that the likelihood of President Obama being impeached and convicted is extremely small, the possibility of his impeachment and the way it has been raised by some Republicans in Congress as more or less another legislative tool is concerning. The reasons given by some Republicans in Congress for wanting to impeach Obama are essentially that they don't like what he has done as president. Members of Congress who do not like what a president is trying to do have numerous tools at their disposal. They can try to block the president's legislation, attack him in the media or run against his party. The Republicans have not been bashful about pursuing any of these solutions. Trying to impeach the president, absent a compelling reason that rises to the standards of high crimes and misdemeanors, is playing too incautiously with constitutional structures and arrangements.
The most striking thing about the efforts to impeach the president is not that this idea was mentioned by conservatives in Congress, but that the idea has completely backfired on the Republican Party. Because of the unabashedly and purely partisan nature of the impeachment proposals, the Democrats found it very easy to fight back using the Republican threat of impeachment as a way to rally their base, raise money and bolster support for President Obama.
In recent weeks, Democrats have worked hard to keep impeachment in the news while Republicans have tried to bury any discussion of impeachment. It is now the Democrats, not the Republicans, who speak about impeachment more, as the issue helps Democrats seeking to ensure Obama is not impeached, but not the Republicans. Given that there is little chance of Obama being impeached and even less chance of him being convicted before his term ends, some have accused the Democrats of behaving cynically or of playing politics on this issue.
The Democrats are, of course, playing politics with this issue, but for Republicans to criticize them for this reflects a degree of chutzpah that is laughable. Threatening impeachment, even if only a few members make that threat, and then getting righteously indignant when the president rallies his supporters to oppose impeachment is absurd. It demonstrates a degree of political aimlessness and lack of strategic thinking that has too frequently been seen in the Republican Party in recent years. The Republicans were foolish to let any discussion of impeachment make it into the media or even be floated in Congress, but once they made that mistake they called foul when the other party responded predictably, reasonably and effectively. Regardless of what you think about Obama, the impeachment discussion, such as it is, has further underscored that the Republicans are not ready to govern, and in fact may not even be interested in doing that.