Posted on November 23, 1998 in Washington Watch

The Republican Party is in a quandary. On the one hand it is clear that the Republicans’ impeachment strategy backfired in the 1998 elections. Both speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich and the Chair of the National Republican Conference, John Boehner lost their jobs over their political miscalculations. They had assumed that by attacking Clinton voters would reward Republicans with electoral victories. The result proved them wrong. The newly-elected Republican leadership wants the impeachment business over before the end of the year and the United States’ Republican Governors are pushing for the party to adopt a more moderate, constructive brand of politics.

This desire to move beyond impeachment is based not only on the election results, which saw Republicans lose some of their edge over the Democrats. It is also based on at least five other factors:

1. There are not enough votes in the House to impeach the President. There are most certainly not enough votes in the U.S. Senate to remove Clinton from office.

2. While Independent Counsel (IC) Ken Starr has spent four years and $40 million in an effort to establish his case against Clinton, many legal experts, political leaders and a strong majority of the U.S. public simply do not feel that what the President is accused of is an impeachable offense.

3. There is growing concern about the methods used by the office of the IC in making their case against the President. A court-appointed counsel is currently investigating Starr and his tactics.

4. Not only the public-at-large but Republicans, as well, are displeased with this entire saga. A recent poll showed that 60% of Republicans want the President to remain in office. Clinton’s approval rating among Republicans is a strong 52% to 36%.

One-third of Republicans believe that their own party voted to begin the impeachment process not because the charges warranted such action but because they wanted to damage the President–hardly an endorsement of this strategy.

5. Not only moderate, but some conservative Republicans as well, want to end their party’s obsession with “getting Clinton” and focus instead on advocating a Republican issue agenda. They believe that if the party does not focus on a positive agenda, it will flounder in 2000.

Nevertheless, despite these pressures to change course, the impeachment process is continuing, in part because once began, it has to run its course. There are also a number of hard-line enemies of the President who are determined to pursue him and to continue their practice of attack politics.

These two opposing pressures are pulling at the Republican Party, but in the end, barring any new and dramatic developments, the supporters of continuing the impeachment process will lose.

Not only has the newly-elected Speaker of the House Bob Livingston made it emphatically clear that he does not want to be burdened with this time-consuming process when his term of office begins in January 1999, but by that time, the politics of 2000 will become too powerful a force, sweeping away unneeded distractions.

Livingston, though quite conservative, is a pragmatic legislator. Unlike his predecessor, Newt Gingrich, Livingston is not an ideologue and has no vendettas to carry out against Democrats. He wants to legislate and develop a track record for efficient leadership. Livingston has, therefore, been emphatic that come January, he wants his agenda to be the focus of Congress, not impeachment.

Having seen how the impeachment strategy almost lost the party their leadership role (a shift of a combined total of only 9,000 votes in six different races would have given Democrats control of the Congress), it is unlikely that any of the leading Republican presidential hopefuls are going to want that issue harming them next year. And they are most certainly not going to want Clinton removed and have Vice President Al Gore elevated to the Presidency. Republicans do not want to run against an incumbent Gore–especially when Gore will be riding on the tide of public resentment over the Republican treatment of Clinton.

So do not be fooled by the “sound and fury” of the next few weeks. It signifies nothing more than the agonizing death of a failed effort.

Clinton will survive. Impeachment and removal will fail. It will be a painful and messy end. But it will soon end, despite a last ditch effort to keep it alive.

For comments or information, contact jzogby@aaiusa.org

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