As analysts and strategists and politicos keep reminding us, Barack Obama isn’t on the ballot this coming midterm election, except for the way in which he is. It’s now clear to anyone who doesn’t need it spelled out—and if you do, increasingly in recent weeks it’s being spelled out for you anyway—that the stealth issue of the upcoming congressional contest is the president’s impeachment. On the right, impeachment has become the wildfire crucible, and the purest purity test yet for those sanctified few who have managed to pass the others; that Obama hasn’t actually done anything to warrant impeachment, or at least anything as egregious as misleading a public into war, couldn’t be more beside the point. He’s Obama; his very existence calls for nullification; the historic fact of his presidency is a transgression against the national image of those Americans who more and more come to the conclusion that things started going very wrong in this country sometime around 1861.
Loath as it often is to do so in its various forms of self-righteous petulance, and sharing with the other end of the ideological spectrum as it does an ecstatic impulse for martyrdom, the left might want to consider waking the hell up. Presently the president’s low approval rating is due largely to falling numbers among Democrats for whom ending two wars, keeping out of two more, reforming health coverage, salvaging an economy, and setting back world terrorism is oh-so-two-or-three news-cycles ago. Republicans understand what’s at stake in this election, though the agitated base and the jaundiced professionals have different ideas as to what that is, the base believing it’s the salvation of an America that not only never existed but was never intended to, and the professionals believing it’s the salvation of the party. The professionals give impeachment lip service or at least silent assent while quietly realizing their party could do some waking up of its own; a political cynic, if that’s not a redundancy, might conclude that losing control of the Senate this November and thereby setting impeachment in motion is the best thing that could happen to Democrats, given the clarification it finally would bring to a slumbering—we’re a nation of somnambulists—center too uninterested to take the right seriously. Counting on both math and the possibility some lingering sense of justice may yet exist among Senate Republicans not named Inhofe or Kyl or Cruz, this assumes the drive to remove the president would fail.
As impeachment gains momentum, this all adds up to a predicament for the two men each likeliest to win (if the other doesn’t) their party’s presidential nomination in 2016. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and Senator Rand Paul would have no choice but to vote for impeachment and conviction respectively—otherwise dooming any prospective nomination—even as they fervently hope impeachment collapses before it dooms any possible election. Nothing would behoove them less, just as nothing will behoove Democrats more, to put the loose talk about impeachment front and center and make the midterms a referendum on it. Because everything about and around Barack Obama has always been high stakes, impeachment represents the current politics’ critical mass in an age when foreign policy crises, in the Crimea or elsewhere—a mere decade after partisanship still ended at the ocean’s edge when it came to invading Iraq, before that adventure unraveled—is just one more opportunity for trying to bring a presidency down. Over the next 30 months, rage at Obama will reach such velocity as to hurl off or suck under those who ride its whirlwind.