The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

No Republican with any real power is pushing impeachment. It’s still a totally valid topic.

President Obama has dinner at a barbecue restaurant in Kansas City, Mo., with four Kansas City residents who wrote him letters. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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To hear Democrats tell it, Republicans are totally ramping up to impeach the president of the United States. To hear Republicans tell it, Democrats are totally behind the "scam" that is all this impeachment talk.

As with many things in Washington, both sides are guilty of being hugely over-dramatic.

Karen Tumulty and Wesley Lowery wrote in Wednesday's Washington Post that impeachment is not going to happen. This is true. It wasn't happening before, it isn't now, and barring something unforeseen, it just won't happen.

So, anti-impeachment Republicans would argue, why in the world are we all talking about it so much -- especially when basically no GOP leaders (or really, anybody beyond the back bench of Congress, conservative talkers and Sarah Palin) are actually pushing impeachment?

Well, there are a few reasons outside of their control, including a massive political news vacuum that needed to be filled. There's also the fact that the impeachment of a president is a pretty irresistible storyline, given it has only happened twice before in American history.

But that doesn't change one underlying fact: That impeachment is a totally valid political topic.

I say this for two reasons. 1) There is real, actual support for it in the GOP base. And 2) GOP leaders have very little control over said base.

A recent CNN/Opinion Research poll showed 33 percent of Americans supported the idea of impeaching Obama. That includes a clear majority of Republicans -- 57 percent -- and even 35 percent of political independents. That's more support than there was for impeaching  George W. Bush and even Bill Clinton, right before Clinton was actually, literally impeached.

Similarly, a Fox News poll showed 36 percent of Americans and 56 percent of Republicans favored impeachment.

In other words, this is beyond a fringe issue. This is an issue on which a strong majority of congressional Republicans' constituents would prefer that they act -- which has put Republicans in the unhappy position of either supporting impeachment or going against the base. And incoming House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) showed Sunday how that can be a tough fence to straddle.

Also, as Jonathan Capehart notes, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) hasn't really offered a Pelosi-esque statement that impeachment is "off the table." He has instead said that GOP leaders have "no future plans" to do so. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has now taken it a step further, saying Obama's sins don't rise to the level of impeachment, but so far he's in pretty limited company in going that far. Again, nobody wants to totally tick off the base.

Republicans can say impeachment talk is a "scam" and a media creation all they want. But until they're willing and/or able to completely rule it out in no uncertain terms -- and somehow get the base to back off -- it remains, well, on the table.

That's not to say we'll still be talking about impeachment a lot in the coming weeks, but the issue is a real one as long as a huge chunk of the GOP base thinks it is.