With the outsized vitriol Barack Obama's presidency has inspired among conservatives, it's seemed inevitable that the right would try to find some reason to impeach him. For more than five years, fringe activists, conservative media, and various Republican politicians have invoked the specter of impeachment over any number of manufactured scandals and supposed outrages. In a new book out today, National Review writer and former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy tries to kickstart the movement in earnest, laying out the “political case” for impeaching the president.
Writing in the New Republic in 2010, liberal journalist Jonathan Chait predicted that if Republicans took control of the House of Representatives and Obama won a second term, “the House will vote to impeach him before he leaves office.” He continued, “Wait, you say. What will they impeach him over? You can always find something.” Indeed, for much of Obama's presidency, the prospect of impeachment has been a hammer in search of a nail.
While fringe activists have been agitating for impeachment for years, more mainstream conservatives have been considerably more reluctant.
In Faithless Execution: Building The Political Case For Obama's Impeachment, McCarthy tries to bridge the gap and build support for impeachment as a serious idea. The crux of McCarthy's argument is that despite what he sees as the rock-solid legal justification for impeaching Obama, Republicans cannot move forward with the effort without first convincing the public that removing the president from office is the right course of action. To do so without public backing would “look like partisan hackery. It would be worse than futile.”
Slate's David Weigel explained in a piece last month about Republicans' recent push to impeach Obama “without looking crazy” that many of the supposed impeachable offenses highlighted in McCarthy's book have already “faded under the klieg lights of big media.” (Though Weigel points out that McCarthy “puts some of the blame for that on Republicans” and their timidity over the issue of impeachment.)
While he's ostensibly trying to jumpstart popular support for removing Obama from office, McCarthy's book seems unlikely to win any new converts -- it's just more preaching to people already in the conservative media bubble (the first reference to frequent right-wing boogeyman Saul Alinsky comes in the third paragraph and the first invocation of “ACORN” follows shortly thereafter).
Half of Faithless Execution is comprised of McCarthy's draft Articles of Impeachment. The supposed outrages in the book are a mix of ongoing focuses of conservative ire -- “The Benghazi Fraud,” and “The Obamacare Fraud,” for example -- and long-forgotten Scandals of the Month like the “racially discriminatory” Justice Department's treatment of the New Black Panther Party. If all of these pseudo-scandals that conservatives flogged relentlessly weren't enough to keep Obama from winning a second term, it's hard to envision the public deciding they constitute justification for impeachment thanks to a reinvigorated push from Republicans.
Update: Faithless Execution's release comes amid a new wave of conservative calls for impeachment. This morning, Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano said Obama “may very well have committed a federal crime” with the release of Bowe Bergdahl. Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy responded by plugging McCarthy's book, and Napolitano highlighted McCarthy's comments to the Mail Online suggesting potential impeachment over Bergdahl. Napolitano added, “it's a very, very valid argument that people are going to start talking about.” A few hours later, Fox News program Outnumbered returned to the impeachment subject, with host Sandra Smith asking, “does this become an impeachable offense?” Fellow Fox contributor Allen West was more forceful, posting on his website, “the U.S. House of Representatives should file articles of impeachment against Barack Hussein Obama.”*
McCarthy concedes in the book, “As things currently stand, the public does not support impeachment -- no surprise, given that no substantial argument for impeachment has been attempted.”
Whether or not McCarthy sees any of the other arguments as “substantial,” the prospect of impeaching Obama has been a regular source of discussion for conservatives since shortly after the president took office. McCarthy's isn't even the first book to try to lay out the argument in serious fashion -- last year WND writer Aaron Klein and co-author Brenda Elliott released Impeachable Offenses: The Case for Removing Barack Obama from Office.
Media Matters looks back at some -- but far from all -- of conservatives' incessant calls for impeachment below.
Wasting No Time: Conservatives Were Calling For Impeachment Months Into Obama's First Term
Less than fifty days after Obama took office, conservative radio host Michael Savage told his audience that the American public was “sitting like a bunch of schmucks, watching a dictatorship emerge in front of their eyes.” According to Savage, Obama was already “out of control” and concluded, “I think it is time to start talking about impeachment.” Conservative media figures have continued talking about impeachment for the intervening five years.
In the fall of 2009, conspiracy website WND -- which had already begun hawking “IMPEACH OBAMA!” bumper stickers -- asked in a headline whether it was “Time To Whisper The Word 'Impeachment'?” Conservative activist Floyd Brown and his wife Mary Beth posited in the column that impeachment was a “political act,” and should be considered due to the fact that “Barack Hussein Obama [is] a very dangerous man, and a threat to your personal liberty.” According to the Browns, the ramp up in discussion of impeachment was perhaps “best” explained by radio host and Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce, who eloquently argued, “Ultimately, it comes down to ... the fact that he seems to have, it seems to me, some malevolence toward this country, which is unabated.”
Concurrent with the column, Floyd Brown -- who produced the infamous Willie Horton ad in 1988 and takes credit for jumpstarting the Clinton impeachment movement -- launched an online petition at “ImpeachObamaCampaign.com.” The site remains active today and is populated with articles bearing headlines like “Obama's Forged Birth Certificate Brings Call For Revolution.”
The impeachment talk quickly made the jump from fringe activists and websites to mainstream conservative outlets like Fox News and prominent Republican politicians. In 2010, the Obama administration reportedly offered former Democratic Representative Joe Sestak a spot on a presidential panel as incentive to stay out of that year's U.S. Senate primary in Pennsylvania. Though legal experts asserted that no laws had been broken and historians noted that similar offers were commonplace, conservative media figures loudly and repeatedly started banging the impeachment drum.
Leading the charge was then-Fox News contributor Dick Morris, who suggested that the Sestak situation amounted to “grounds for impeachment.” Soon, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh all also pointed to the Sestak offer as a potential impeachable offense.
While Morris built a career out of saying improbable, outrageous and inaccurate things that should be viewed skeptically, his impeachment talk was nonetheless adopted by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who cited Morris' claims during appearances on Fox News. (Five months later, the Republicans would win the House and Issa would take over as chairman of the House Oversight Committee.)
Though the Sestak non-scandal fizzled, the impeachment talk didn't go away. In 2011, Fox Business devoted ten minutes of airtime to hashing out former Rep. Tom Tancredo's (R-CO) twelve reasons to impeach Obama -- including immigration reform, the failed Fast and Furious gunrunning operation, and the administration's support of failed solar company Solyndra, all of which are included in McCarthy's book.
Obama's Re-Election Just Means There's More Time To Impeach Him
After Republican scandal-mongering was unsuccessful in making Obama a one-term president, impeachment talk continued unabated after his re-election. Fox News contributor Todd Starnes wasted no time in getting the ball rolling, telling his Twitter followers the night of the election, “the first order of business should be a full investigation of Benghazi -- followed by impeachment proceedings.” He would soon have company.
Roughly a month after Obama's second term inauguration, Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano was calling for impeachment over the implementation of the sequester spending cuts.
Following the Boston Marathon bombings a few months later, Washington Times columnist Jeffrey Kuhner penned a column arguing that Obama was “unwilling” to keep Americans safe by refusing “to acknowledge that we are in a war with radical Islam.” Kuhner added, “It's time he is held responsible for his gross negligence. It's time that he be impeached. Justice demands no less.” (Kuhner had previously written columns calling for Obama to be impeached over military invention in Libya and raised the idea of impeachment during the fight over health care reform.)
Kuhner wasn't the only media figure that used the Boston bombings as a springboard for impeachment talk. Glenn Beck told viewers to “demand impeachment” over his bizarre and offensive conspiracy theory trying to link an innocent Saudi man to the bombings.
WND columnist and right-wing activist Larry Klayman started calling for Obama's impeachment and conviction well before the 2012 election, but has spent the last year trying to get Obama ousted from office while starting a “second American Revolution.” Bypassing impeachment, Klayman in October infamously called on the president to “get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.”
Fellow WND columnist Alan Keyes, who holds the historical footnote of being the Republican candidate Obama trounced in his 2004 Illinois Senate run, has spent much of 2014 trying to throw fuel on the impeachment fire. Keyes has devoted numerous columns to directing readers to sign a petition at "pledgetoimpeach.com" to "stop Obama's dictatorship." The “Pledge to Impeach” site includes its own draft Articles of Impeachment, featuring claims like, “Mr. Obama has attained the office of president in a verifiably fraudulent and criminal manner, and upon a false identity and false pretenses.”
Obama Should Be Impeached, But He's Black So He's Unfairly Safe
While several activists are pushing for impeachment, some prominent conservative media figures say that while Obama may deserve to be impeached, he's protected from being removed from office due to the fact that he's the first black president.
McCarthy touches on concerns that pro-impeachment conservatives will be labeled racists in Faithless Execution:
Right now, conviction in the Senate is a pipedream, and therefore one cannot reasonably expect the House to file articles of impeachment. The process of impeachment will always be an ordeal, regardless of how necessary it is. Americans may be convincible regarding the need to oust a lawless president, but they will never be happy about it. Nor should they be. Even the president's most zealous detractors should prefer that he mend his outlaw ways and finish his term than that the country be put through an impeachment process that would be painful in the best of times. And these are not the best of times: today, the pain would be exacerbated by the vulgar propensity of the left and the media to demagogue concern for the nation's well-being as racism. Consequently, impeachment entails substantial political risk for the protagonists, even if they are clearly right to seek it. [Faithless Execution, pg 46, emphasis added]
During an appearance on Sean Hannity's radio show in April of this year, TruthRevolt.org founder and conservative activist David Horowitz said that “because Obama is black and because he's a leftist he's completely protected by the press.” He added that the president is “a menace to American security, and the sooner -- and of course you can't impeach him because you can't impeach the first black president.”
Conservative bomb-thrower Ann Coulter has also pointed to Obama's race as protecting him from impeachment. Discussing health care reform during an appearance on Hannity's Fox News program in February, Coulter remarked, “there is now a caveat to the constitution -- you can't impeach a president if he is our first black president.”
Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly cited Obama's race as a reason he is safe from impeachment. Speaking on his radio show in May 2013, Limbaugh told listeners, “the people of this country -- if it came to this -- are simply not going to tolerate the first black president being removed from office.” A week later, Limbaugh returned to the subject, saying the “racial component” would save Obama from impeachment.
Earlier this year, Limbaugh concluded that even if there was a “slam dunk legal case for it, you're never going to succeed impeaching a president unless there's the political will for it.” Limbaugh cited the need for Obama's approval ratings to drop precipitously in order for impeachment to be on the table, adding, “even then I'm not so sure that the people of this country would ever support removing the first black president.”
He concluded, “It's just -- it's never going to happen.”
*This paragraph has been updated to reflect more calls for impeachment since posting.