In an op-ed for Breitbart.com, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin said "it's time to impeach." Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images
In an op-ed for Breitbart.com, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin said "it's time to impeach." Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Could Republicans really impeach the president on the grounds of, well, just because they want to? Alas, this week, it's looking a little more likely that could happen, and a little less likely that Democrats are just being paranoid about it.

Hot on the heels of Erick Erickson’s “defund or impeach” demand, we now have the Sage of Wasilla declaring for impeachment. And Sarah Palin isn't one for subtlety:

It’s time to impeach; and on behalf of American workers and legal immigrants of all backgrounds, we should vehemently oppose any politician on the left or right who would hesitate in voting for articles of impeachment.

As Aaron Blake correctly analyses, if there's enough of this kind of agitation, then all Republican politicians will be pressed to take a position on impeachment in an environment in which the incentive is to go along. In fact, that's pretty much the point: to find something so outrageous, so foolish (and, for Republicans nationally, so counterproductive) that normal mainstream conservatives will shy away, thereby "proving" that the radicals are the Real Conservatives. I don’t know if we've arrived at that point yet, but we’re getting a little closer.

That said, actual impeachment still seems overwhelmingly unlikely. This is a purely symbolic exercise, and given that it’s already July 2014 and that nothing has been put in motion, chances are that Republican outrage will soon shift to Democratic presidential candidates. In particular, it’s getting late for impeachment to be a 2014 nomination issue, given that many midterm primaries are done, and it’s difficult to imagine Republican presidential candidates in, say, fall 2015 debating whether it’s a good idea to impeach the president they’re fighting to replace at the ballot box.

And even if a lot of Republican politicians are calling for impeachment, it's likely that when push comes to shove the House Republican leadership will shoot the whole thing down. After all, there’s probably nothing that'll do a better job of pushing President Barack Obama’s approval ratings solidly above 50 percent than a bogus impeachment. House Speaker John Boehner knows that. Just as he and the rest of the leadership know that taking a stand against impeachment would provide further evidence that they are RINOs (apologies to the new House whip, Steve Scalise, and welcome to leadership).

I should also mention that a partisan impeachment with no hope of conviction was irresponsible enough when there was a bipartisan consensus that the president had actually done something wrong (as was the case with Bill Clinton). it’s far more irresponsible when whatever scandal this is supposedly about is only recognized as something significant by the most partisan faction of one party. It also would be unprecedented. And there would be real-world consequences: I’ve speculated before that the distraction of the Clinton impeachment could have been partially responsible for the U.S.'s poor state of readinesss before the Sept. 11 attacks, and even a ridiculous, go-nowhere impeachment will chew up valuable time and attention. Of course, if you think politics is purely symbolic and governing is irrelevant, you might not notice, or care.

Anyway: every high-profile Republican who endorses this farcical exercise makes it harder to say this is just being overblown by paranoid Democrats. And the high-profile Republicans who duck instead of calling impeachment the irresponsible talk it is? They’re not helping.

To contact the writer of this article: Jonathan Bernstein at Jbernstein62@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net.