Christmas came early this year for Democrats. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson suggested on Saturday that the House is poised to launch a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, saying it’s “a necessary step,” and that he believes Republicans have the votes to do it.
To which Biden and the Democrats should be saying, “Please don’t throw me into the briar patch!” This development could be great on many levels for Uncle Joe.
If this sounds crazy and counterintuitive, it’s only because we live in crazy times. Fifty years ago, the mere threat of impeachment was enough to drive President Richard Nixon from office. Twenty-five years ago, impeachment became something President Bill Clinton could survive politically, even if it cast a pall over his presidency and reputation.
Ironically, the backlash against the Clinton impeachment hurt Republicans electorally in 1998, causing then-Speaker Newt Gingrich to step down.
And now, we have entered a new phase of defining deviancy downward; impeachment can now be seen not only as survivable, but as desirable. It can not only validate your victim status, but also prove that you are a fighter.
The best way, it seems, to rally support from one’s own tribe is to be under attack by the other side. Whether the attacks are warranted is almost beside the point.
Consider this: After surviving two impeachments (without losing his presidency or his base), Donald Trump’s indictments helped boost his standing within the Republican Party (March 30, the day of Trump’s first indictment, was also the last time Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was within sixteen points of Trump).
At a moment where Biden’s approval rating is flagging (even among Democrats), where he is seen as old and boring (particularly among young progressives), and where his stalwart support for Israel has caused a schism with the left, fending off impeachment could be just what the doctor ordered, in terms of helping galvanize the progressive base.
If an impeachment would help Biden, it’s probably worth asking why—or even if—we are headed down this road.
On one hand, serious impeachment talk can lead to impeachment inquiries, which tend to lead to impeachments. There is a school of thought that says this process is inexorable, since pulling back from an impeachment can be perceived as an exoneration.
On the other hand, Republicans have a razor-thin majority in the House. With George Santos gone, there are seventeen House Republicans who represent districts that Biden won in 2020; this increases the likelihood that some may refuse to support impeachment out of self-preservation.
It’s easy to imagine that an impeachment inquiry would backfire on these purple-district House Republicans. This would be especially true if the impeachment were seen as unwarranted. (I have written many times that Hunter Biden has engaged in shady behavior and should be investigated. But until Republicans can prove Joe Biden did something illegal or unethical, this inquiry looks like mere revenge.)
And, let’s be honest, that’s probably what this is. Speaker Johnson must at least feign that he is pushing this impeachment threat as far as he can. That’s in part because Trump demands it. It has been reported that one of the reasons former Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted from his position was that Trump was mad that McCarthy didn’t expunge Trump’s impeachment.
If Trump’s impeachment can’t be expunged (it can’t), then the next best thing might be a revenge impeachment. That way, at least this indignity can be normalized (if every president is impeached, then no president is impeached).
Just like his obsession with denying he lost the 2020 election, Trump is putting his own selfish interests ahead of the Republican Party’s interests. But as so often has been the case, the things Trump thinks he wants—the things that satisfy his ego and desire for “retribution”—are also bad for his political ambitions.
That’s not to say Democrats should start uncorking the champagne. There’s something tragic about this whole scenario. Trump and his minions continue to erode norms and destroy our social fabric. Making impeachment a routine part of the American presidency would be bad for all of us.
But if you’re worried about Donald Trump making a comeback, you might just have to write this off as a necessary tradeoff. An impeachment would be the best gift Republicans could give Joe Biden.