As the cancer on this presidency continues to metastasize, with trust in the president continuing to deteriorate, and a growing realization that the federal government is growing, or perhaps has grown beyond the limits and control intended by the Founders, it’s worthwhile to start to consider the possible political implications down the road. The conventional wisdom remains that, at worst, Barack Obama will lose the Senate next year, fail to regain the House, and be the lamest of ducks until the natural end of his term in 2017. But if things get bad enough, there is a much more radical, but completely constitutional scenario, in which the Republicans could get somewhat of a do over of last fall’s election. This will particularly be the case if enough people come to view its results as illegitimate, having been influenced by the tyrannical actions of the IRS and other federal agencies.
How could it happen?
It would require the Republicans to nationalize the coming mid-term election in a way that they have not done since 1994, when they took over the Congress for the first time in over four decades due to overreach by the Clinton administration on gun control and health care, and in fact it would require doing so even more dramatically. They would have to make it a referendum not just on who would control the Congress during the last two years of the Obama presidency, but whether or not that presidency, and indeed Democratic control of the White House at all, should in fact continue.
The scandals are likely to get worse before they get better. Indeed, they are unlikely to get better at all. What has already occurred — considering Benghazi, the IRS abuse of power, the lies to Congress, the attacks on the free press — are worse than any of the allegations in Watergate. The only difference (so far) is that there has been no “smoking gun” evidence that any of it occurred at the explicit direction of the president, as the revelations of the tapes (and the missing portion of them) provided in the case of Richard Nixon. If such evidence turns up in this case (and it may be nothing more than testimony of people who decide they don’t want to join their colleagues under the ever crowding bus), then the issue will be what to do about it. If the Nixon precedent plays out, senior Senate Democrats would go to the White House and tell the president that he no longer had enough votes to avoid removal if the House impeached, and that his only options were such removal or resignation. But given the highly partisan nature of those individuals, that seems unlikely. They’ll more likely simply continue to defend the White House and hunker down, and accuse the Republicans of “politicizing” the issue.
Impeachment is intrinsically a political act, not a legal one; “high crimes and misdemeanors” are not well defined, and tend to be in the eye of the beholder, as we saw in the case of Bill Clinton. Any objective analysis would indicate that he committed multiple federal felonies in his obstruction of justice in order to avoid the consequences of his reprehensible behavior. But the 1999 Senate chose not to remove him, despite his guilt of the articles of impeachment — Democrats because they were standing by their man, and some Republicans because they feared more public anger if a popular president was removed, after the election losses in the House in the wake of the 1998 impeachment. Similarly, if a president is very unpopular, just as a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich, the House could impeach, and the Senate remove, on any grounds they chose. That is, they could decide to remove not only the criminal president, but his vice president as well, simply on the presumption of complicity, and replace them with the Speaker of the House, who would then select a new vice president.
The key, of course, is to ensure that (unlike in 1998), the Congress has some assurance that such a thing would be the public’s will. In 1998, regardless of whether one thinks it should have been, it was not, and the Republicans were punished for it at the polls. So this time, they would have to make it the election issue, and allow the public to decide.
It seems likely that the big issues next year will be the overgrowth of government and its power (part of which will be many losing their health insurance or being forced into part-time work as ObamaCare sets in with a vengeance), the continuing poor economic growth, the ongoing meltdown in the Middle East (and perhaps other parts of the world) as everyone overseas has finally appreciated the fecklessness of this president, and takes advantage of it. So the path to a new government (and hopefully a reformed one) would look something like this.
The (Republican) House would elect a new Speaker early next year. While the Speaker has always been a member, there is no Constitutional requirement for it, and it would be free to elect whomever it thought would be the best face for the party, just as (in theory) party members at large do in a presidential nomination contest. It might be the current speaker, John Boehner, but it could be anyone, including a sitting Senator (though that would be an interesting case for SCOTUS) or a private citizen. That person would be the de facto leader of the party going into the election. He (or she) would also choose and name a potential running mate.
This would be the election message: “The country is in a crisis, in foreign policy and domestically. Part of the crisis is a constitutional one; government has grown too powerful, to the point at which it controls us rather than we it, in opposition to what the nation’s Founders intended. As we’ve learned over the past year and a half, the current administration has abused that power for its own political ends. Indeed, absent that abuse, it may not have been re-elected in 2012, in which case that election was illegitimate. There is a constitutional remedy for this. Elect enough Republicans to the Senate and the House this fall, and they will see that Barack Obama and Joe Biden are removed from power, and replaced by me and my running mate. Immediately after that, I will name a new cabinet, consisting of [fill-in-the-blank] and work with Congress to see that this federal monster is finally reined in, repealing and replacing ObamaCare, and with a full-scale reform of the federal code, and a return to the rule of law and the Constitution.”
In a sense, it could be viewed as a temporary reversion to a parliamentary system, in which the voters are asked to vote in a new government, except on the normal electoral timetable, rather than at a time of the government’s choosing. And entirely constitutional.
Is this a likely scenario? Not particularly — it would depend on much more coming out, and other unpredictable events over the next year or so. Herding the cats in the House to come up with the right new leader currently strains credulity. And even if they could, the cries of “racism” from the Democrats and their enablers in the media throughout the campaign would be ear bleeding, with threats of riots in the streets about the removal of the first black president (this would be partially mitigated were the new Speaker to be black). And if things really do get sufficiently bad that this seems politically realistic, the Democrats might actually shock us and take that walk to the White House, rather than suffer a complete loss of political power. But whatever its likelihood, it’s becoming less and less unthinkable with each new revelation.