Ed Kilgore thinks House Republicans may be moving toward attempting to impeach President Barack Obama on the spurious grounds of the phony Benghazi scandal. Is he right?

I’ve gone back and forth on this over the years. In 2009, I said in an offhand comment that “If Republicans take back the House, the odds are very good that they will impeach Barack Obama.” I soon realized I had spoken too soon. Although I believed that some Republican backbencher (OK, I predicted Michele Bachmann, but any of the radicals seemed likely) would introduce articles of impeachment at some point, the incentives and the attitudes of Republican leaders tended to make it unlikely that they would go ahead with a spurious impeachment.

I saw two impediments to impeachment. First, most Republicans believe that impeaching Bill Clinton backfired in the 1998 elections (and don’t think it was responsible for George W. Bush’s victory in 2000).

Second, even though scandal-mongering is lucrative for Republicans, impeachment attaches an end-point to a scandal once the Senate votes against removal. Why not just keep “investigating” indefinitely?1

A counterargument is the intense fear among House Republicans of being called RINOs, which might make them unwilling to stand against impeachment if the radicals get serious. There’s also the possibility that the closed conservative information feedback loop might convince them that whatever nonsense they settle on as a reason for impeachment is widely shared by everyone except a handful of socialists.

There’s another reason Republicans might be tempted: They might be worried (foolishly, in my view) that Hillary Clinton would be an unusually strong general-election candidate, and they see Vice President Joe Biden as an easily defeated buffoon who Democrats would be stuck with after Obama was removed.

What’s most likely, however, is that House Republicans like the idea of having a select committee empowered to spend the run-up to the 2016 election investigating Democrats in general and Clinton in particular. If I had to predict an outcome, I’d say the Benghazi committee will become just a general Clinton investigative committee, looking into things far afield of Benghazi. That is far more likely than impeachment.

1 Unless House Republicans are willing to try to impeach Obama as often as they’ve voted to repeal Obamacare, but I don’t think there’s any appetite for that.

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.