Sarah Palin might have called for the impeachment of President Barack Obama Tuesday, but Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst actually beat her to the punch by six months. At a Montgomery County, Iowa, candidate forum in January, Ernst told a crowd that she believed Obama had "become a dictator" and that he needed to face the consequences for his executive actions, "whether that's removal from office, whether that's impeachment."
For a U.S. Senate race in a competitive swing state, Iowa's Joni Ernst is a remarkably far-right Republican candidate. As Rachel noted on the show last month, Ernst has said she would ban abortions and many forms of birth control; she would privatize Social Security and abolish the minimum wage; she would back an anti-gay amendment to the Constitution; and she believes there's secret information that Saddam Hussein really did have weapons of mass destruction.
In other words, if Ernst is elected this year, the Iowa Republican would instantly join a fringe element on Capitol Hill, far from the American mainstream.
And what does this radical element want? The impeachment of President Obama.
Ernst, in her January remarks, added, "As a U.S. senator, though, we have to push that issue, we can't be silent on things like that."
Yesterday afternoon, as the public heard more about this, the Republican candidate issued a public statement, kinda sorta walking her comments back, but only a little. "To be clear, I have not seen any evidence that the President should be impeached," Ernst said in the written statement. "I obviously do not believe the president is a dictator, but his repeated use of unilateral action sure makes him look like one."
It would appear that the Republican U.S. Senate nominee in the great of state of Iowa doesn't quite understand what a dictator is.
Regardless, Ernst's rhetoric led political scientist Norm Ornstein to note that the GOP's "Impeach Obama crowd," which he described as "the lunatic fringe," is starting to go "mainstream."
For Republicans, that's not good news.
To be sure, you have to be pretty nutty to seriously believe President Obama -- accused of no high crimes, caught up in no legitimate scandals, guilty of no actual wrongdoing -- seriously deserves to be impeached, or in Ernst's words, "removed from office." The very idea is plainly silly, evidence of an unchecked and unhinged id gone out of control.
But as of this week, the so-called "lunatic fringe" keeps adding new high-profile members. I haven't seen a comprehensive list of Republican officials who've publicly endorsed presidential impeachment, but we can say with certainty this I-team includes several sitting U.S. senators, several sitting U.S. House members, congressional candidates, at least one gubernatorial candidate, one state party convention, several prominent former lawmakers, and the party's 2008 nominee for vice president of the United States.
What we're left with is ... a campaign issue. Because Ornstein is correct, and this obvious nonsense is moving into the Republican "mainstream," the question of whether GOP lawmakers will try to remove the president from office is something candidates will likely have to address between now and the midterms.
And for Republicans, this was never part of the election-year plan. The party's anti-immigration, anti-contraception agenda is problematic enough, but now that so many GOP voices are positioning the party as pro-impeachment, an unexpected wildcard has been added to the electoral deck.
As we talked about a few weeks ago, I can appreciate why this may seem foolish. Ordinarily, the "I" word only comes up in relation to actual presidential wrongdoing. In 1974 the question was, "Will Nixon get impeached for running a criminal enterprise out of the Oval Office?" In 1986 the question was, "Will Reagan get impeached for selling arms to a sworn enemy to finance an illegal war in Central America?" In 1998 the question was, "Will Clinton get impeached for lying about sex?"
But in 2014 the question seems to be, "Will Obama get impeached because he's driven Republicans off the deep end?"
If it were up to GOP leaders, the question wouldn't be part of the national conversation, giving the Democratic base a reason to show up this fall and making Republicans look foolish in the eyes of the mainstream. But as Palin and Ernst reminded us yesterday, GOP leaders aren't in control and can't make this go away.