How Impeachment Tied Right Wing Media In Knots

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It's been a confusing week for professional Obama critics. Suddenly confronted with the topic of impeachment and busy issuing not-quite-believable denials that trying to drive the Democratic president from office has ever been a serious pursuit of the Republican Party or its most aggressive boosters, many members of the far-right press seemed caught off guard by recent developments.

Angered by the fact the White House is highlighting the GOP's ongoing embrace of impeachment and suggesting Republicans might act on the idea if they win control of the U.S. Senate, conservatives have tried to quiet their own crowd, apparently concerned about optics.

But the fever swamp has never been about optics. It's about whipping as many people as possible into a state of narrow-minded outrage on a daily basis. And if that means dipping into the impeachment pool, then so be it.

Now press partisans are caught in no-man's land. Seeing the fundraising success Democrats have had off impeachment, conservative critics angrily deny that Republicans have any interest in impeachment. Yet at the same time they're part of a media movement that thinks Obama should be impeached. (He's a lawless tyrant, in case you hadn't heard.) The contradiction has led to a week of confusion and missteps as the conservative media struggle with how transparent they should be in their loathing of the president, especially if there are indications Democrats are using that rage to their advantage, both politically and financially.

So almost overnight there's been a movement to hush the most strident critics; to urge everyone to take it down a notch because it just doesn't look good.

On Fox News, The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld dismissed impeachment as a “stunt” that's “tossed out by people addicted to [the] splash those stunts make.” What kind of people? “Bloggers” and “talking heads,” he said. Co-host Andrea Tantaros agreed, bemoaning the fact “There's a movement in talk radio and on the right to profiteer from these wild ideas.” (Note that Tantaros still thinks Obama might do something “worthy of impeachment”  just to bait Republicans into it.") And colleague Eric Bolling insisted even talk radio hosts had “backed off” the topic because they realized it “sounded a little bit crazy.”

But nobody puts Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin in the corner, so the angry talkers haven't backed down from the impeachment charge. (Levin: “Here's the dead truth -- Obama should be impeached.”) And that leaves damage control agents like Tantaros looking a bit foolish: How can impeachment deniers claim the topic's not being treated seriously when two of the most popular radio hosts in right-wing America are doing just that, and demanding their millions of listeners do the same? (For a cheat sheet of Republican politicians who also have also pushed impeachment, see here.)

And that's been the confusing part: The claim nobody on the right's been promoting impeachment (it's all a liberal conspiracy), vs. the acknowledgement that okay, some people have but they're really misguided and irresponsible.

Adopting the role of disappointed headmaster, Karl Rove wrote, “It would be nice if Republican backbenchers desperate to appear on cable TV shows, and conservative celebrities seeking website hits, would resist the temptation to become useful stooges for the president by insisting that impeachment is a real possibility.”

Of course, Rove works for Fox News and here's a six-minute clip from July where Fox News' Sean Hannity and Fox alumnae Sarah Palin discuss Palin's insistence that Obama be impeached for his “lawless” and “imperial” ways:

In early July, fevered talk of impeachment was a good thing for Fox. But in late July it became a very, very bad thing?

So yes, the amusing part revolves around how Fox and its allies are trying to cover up the right wing's previously open and proud flirtation (and full-on embrace) of impeaching Obama, even though none of it's ever been a secret, and nobody ever tried to keep it hidden. (i.e. "This guy needs to be impeached.") It's undeniable that impeachment has been an anchor of the right-wing's rhetorical warfare since 2009. Like the far-right's crusade against Bill Clinton's presidency in the `90s, it's been part of a larger attempt to delegitimize Obama; to immediately question his authenticity.

As ABC News observed, “Almost immediately after Obama took office, conservative commentators on the fringes began toying with the idea of impeaching the president.” Over time, “the talk migrated into the mainstream as Republican lawmakers began to chime in.”

And as Media Matters has noted, less than two months after being inaugurated, conservative radio host Michael Savage declared that Obama was already “out of control” and concluded, “I think it is time to start talking about impeachment.”

Even Time's Joe Klein, who faulted the White House for fundraising off the issue, conceded “there is a chance that the Republicans will try to impeach the President, especially later in the summer.”

For years, the look-at-me, listen-to-me, click-on-me rhetoric flowed without hesitation or concern for political consequences. But suddenly, with the robust Democratic fundraising and indications the charge for removing Obama from office might hinder Republicans in the upcoming election cycle, everyone's supposed to pretend it never happened? Everyone is supposed to act like that it hasn't been an openly stated goal of the conservative movement in America?  

Like high school kids scrambling to clean up the empty beer cans before their parents return from a weekend away, conservatives are frantically trying to whitewash any evidence of an impeachment bash. But like those worried partiers, remnants of the right-wing binge can't be easily cleaned up.