Congressional Republicans have spent the majority of 2014 doing very little even marginally controversial. They put talk of government shutdown showdowns to rest and avoided another stand-off over raising the debt ceiling. The goal was simple: Keep the focus on the unpopular President Obama in hopes of turning the midterm election into a referendum on him.
They were doing so well. Right up until House Speaker John Boehner decided to file a lawsuit against President Obama for executive orders he maintained were unconstitutional.
The lawsuit, which the House is expected to authorize before heading home for a five-week August recess on Thursday, has opened up the Pandora's box of impeachment -- with a large push from the White House -- that now has the potential to undo much of the good political work Congressional Republicans have done this year.
Yes, Boehner has pooh-poohed impeachment as a "scam" propagated by Democrats to raise money and energize the party's somewhat lethargic base. (I'm not sure about the word choice of "scam" but Democrats quite clearly see political opportunity in the House lawsuit and are moving to take advantage.) The problem for Boehner is that while he has been adamant about impeachment never being on the table, there are others within the party -- led by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin -- who have and will continue to call for Obama to be removed from office. And, the lawsuit -- assuming the House authorizes it -- provides, for this impeachment crowd, a news peg by which to promote their views.
Karl Rove, appearing on Fox News Channel Tuesday night, channeled the frustrations of many Republican strategists about his own party's willingness to give President Obama and Democrats exactly what they want in advance of the midterms. "Shame on [Obama], and shame on those people in his administration who participate with him," Rove told Greta van Susteren. "And shame on those conservatives and Republicans who help him along. The president wants nothing more than Congressman [Ted] Yoho, of Florida, to step forward and say we must do it."
Here's the issue: It's been demonstrated time and again that Boehner -- or any other establishment leader of the GOP -- has very little operational control of what the tea party wing in Congress says or does. You can be sure that Boehner is making it abundantly clear to members of his conference not to mention the word "impeachment" in public and, if asked about it, to insist that it is absolutely not an option. But, whether they listen is another thing entirely. Some may genuinely believe that Obama has committed acts that warrant impeachment, others may see the possibility of personal political gain out of being on Team Impeachment.
Meanwhile, any and all talk of impeachment may well be the secret ingredient Democrats have been desperately searching for to energize their base in advance of the midterms. (Eighty six percent of Democrats oppose impeaching President Obama.) If Democrats can make their base voters believe that the results of this election could mean the difference between impeaching Obama and not, that's a major win for them. And, yes, impeachment talk will further stoke passion among some within the conservative base. But, between the IRS, Benghazi and Obamacare do those voters really need a whole lot more motivation to turn out and vote against Obama?
The genie is out of the bottle for Republicans at the moment. They need to figure out a way to stuff it back in -- and quick -- or run the risk of making the election, at least in part, about them. And that's what they've spent the last seven months assiduously trying not to do.