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Impeachment: The right’s new lost cause

Sometimes politics is like high-stakes poker. If you look around the table after a few hands and you can’t tell who’s the pigeon, citizen, chances are it’s you: the guy who plunked down $26.95 for a book called “Impeachable Offenses: The Case for Removing Barack Obama from Office.”

Yeah, you with the “Impeach Obama” bumper strip on your car. The guy standing on a freeway overpass waving a “Honk for Impeachment” sign. You may as well go around in a little bird’s nest hat, like Donald Duck’s eccentric friend Gyro Gearloose.

Because it not only ain’t going to happen, but the people peddling this nonsense don’t even want it to happen. Not really. They’re just making a buck off people who can’t count and running a classic misdirection play.

It’s actually a good sign if you think about it.

The more Republicans you hear talking about impeachment, the closer the party has come to surrender on the big issues they claim to care about.

Like it or not, the possibility of repealing “Obamacare” ended when the Supreme Court found it constitutional and the president won re-election. You’d think after 40 — count ‘em, 40 — fruitless votes to abort the law, that message might start to sink in. We still have majority rule in this country.

But no, it hasn’t sunk in at all. Like a baseball team demanding to play the eighth game of the World Series, GOP hardliners have come up with yet another plan to force the president’s hand. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has called for something he infelicitously called a “grassroots tsunami” to make Obama relent. More rational party leaders, however, are fearful of the terrible consequences of shutting down the government or defaulting on the national debt in a vain attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act.

Neither tactic would accomplish the ostensible goal and would doom Republican chances to regain Congress or the White House for the foreseeable future. More than 70 percent of voters, including 53 percent of Republicans, oppose a government shutdown. A debt default could have catastrophic economic consequences. However, many GOP politicians are equally fearful of the wrath of the Tea Party zealots to whom they’ve made undeliverable promises.

Hence the melodramatic appeal of impeachment, a totally unserious threat its sponsors hope hotheads will see as more decisive. So what if it makes the United States look like a banana republic? That’s the form of government that fools prefer to democracy, with its tedious committee meetings, quorum calls and compromises. Just think how happy an impeachment battle would make the impresarios and talking heads of cable news.

So far only a couple of largely unknown House Republicans — Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan and Blake Farenthod of Texas — have publicly endorsed the idea of impeaching Obama. But the clamor has also reached more powerful figures.

At a recent town hall meeting in Muskogee, Okla., Sen. Tom Coburn, ostensibly a personal friend of the president’s, answered a constituent’s question about impeachment by allowing as how “those are serious things, but we’re in serious times. And I don’t have the legal background to know if that rises to ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’ but I think you’re getting perilously close.”

Campaigning in Texas, Sen. Cruz responded to a constituent who asked “Why don’t we impeach him?” by saying “It’s a good question.”

Cruz went on to give what he called “the simplest answer: To successfully impeach a president you need the votes in the U.S. Senate.”

Asked by the National Review if he’d consider changing his mind if Republicans take the House and Senate in 2014, Cruz answered, “that’s not a fight we have a prospect of winning.”

He didn’t say that there’s no remotely plausible evidence against the president, or that Americans settle political disputes through elections rather than show trials. Merely that a two-thirds vote in the U.S. Senate to remove President Obama from office isn’t feasible right now.

Cruz left the distinct impression that after his dry land political tidal wave fails to sweep the country this fall, he’d be willing to revisit the question. If he’s half as smart as he appears to think he is, the Texas Republican has to know that he’s going to be needing a powerful new issue come 2014.

To the Washington Post’s conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin, “Cruz is emblematic of a group of conservative hucksters peddling outrage and paranoia who contend that the strength of the political resistance they generate is equivalent to their own importance, and that one dramatic, losing standoff after another is the pinnacle of political success.”

The point, see, wouldn’t be to defeat Obama, but other Republicans. And the key would be establishing himself as the champion of what E.J. Dionne calls the Republican Party’s “Armageddon Caucus.” Impeachment could then become the next lost cause.

They’ve always got to have one.

Gene Lyons is a columnist for the Arkansas Times and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000).

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