The politics of crying “impeachment” [UPDATED]

The Democrats have been fundraising like crazy based on claims that President Obama is in danger of being impeached by House Republicans. Last night, John wondered whether it’s good idea to tell your party’s members repeatedly that the leader of their party is in danger of being impeached.

The answer, I think, is that it is a good idea to the extent the message is heard only by party members. Few Democrats will be able to conceive of a rationale for impeaching their leader and nearly all will view the alleged threat of impeachment as confirmation that House Republicans are evil.

And the money will pour in.

But money isn’t the key to saving endangered Democrat-held Senate seats and making inroads into the House Republicans majority. Only the votes of independents and true moderates can accomplish these goals.

The Democrats can’t keep the “news” of possible impeachment to themselves. The question thus becomes whether it is a good idea for Democrats to cause independents and moderates to believe that President Obama is in danger of being impeached.

I don’t think so. Unlike Democrats, many independents and moderates understand the Republicans’ deep discontent and frustration with Obama. Polls show that these sentiments are no longer confined to Republicans.

Few independents and moderates favor impeaching Obama, and if the House were to move in that direction, these voters would sympathize with the president and blame Republicans. But unless and until impeachment proceedings commence, they will blame Obama for having put himself in a position where impeachment is being discussed by anyone.

If a child tells his parent that his school may suspend him, a normal parent will conclude that the child has put himself in jeopardy by misbehaving. So too, I suspect, with the Democrats’ cries of “impeachment.”

If independents and moderates credit the Democrats’ claims that Republicans might impeach Obama, they will also blame Republicans for going overboard in their opposition to Obama, just as the parent in the above example will probably worry that the school is overreacting. But there’s little reason to believe that many non-Democrats will credit claims that impeachment is in the cards, now that Speaker Boehner has said that it isn’t.

Thus, as months pass and no impeachment materializes, no blame will attach to Republicans. The remaining impression will be that of a problematic president whose party cried “wolf.”

There’s another dimension to the politics of “impeachment.” By some accounts, Obama is poised to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. There is speculation that the cries of “impeachment” are related to this impending development.

If House Republicans become so outraged by the amnesty that they talk seriously of impeachment, Democrats can say “I told you so” and Boehner may look like a liar. If House Republicans don’t talk seriously about impeachment, Obama will have lessened the firestorm and elements of the Republican base may become disillusioned.

But this strategy — if that’s what it is — seems too clever by a half. The lawlessness of a unilateral grant of amnesty by Obama will likely upset not just Republicans and conservatives but many independents and moderates. They still won’t favor impeachment, but they will understand more clearly why a case for impeachment can be made.

They will probably blame Obama even more for being a president whose name can appear in the same sentence as “impeachment” (is this what “hope and change” has come to?) And some may even credit House Republicans for their forbearance in not impeaching him.

UPDATE: A new AP/GfK poll finds that 68 percent of Americans now disapprove of Obama’s handling of immigration. Lawless action by Obama on an issue that Americans already think he’s mishandling will likely strengthen the sense that Obama has brought impeachment talk on himself.