Hey Tea Party! How’s that impeachment talk working out for you? Look to history for some wisdom — the wisdom of prudential experience being a conservative value.
This strategy is essentially the same one the party followed in 1998. That year, Republicans broke a long historical pattern — in which the party that doesn’t hold the White House tends to make gains in the middle of a president’s second term — by actually losing seats. That was the year of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Conventional wisdom holds that Republicans ran on a platform of removing President Bill Clinton from office and lost because the public hated the idea.
That isn’t exactly what happened. Voters did indeed want Clinton to remain in the presidency. Yet Republicans knew that: 66 percent of the public in a Gallup survey that October said they approved of the job he was doing. Republicans also knew that 68 percent of respondents told Pew the same month that they didn’t like Clinton “personally.” So they ran ads saying that voting Republican would punish Clinton and keep him in check, but they didn’t promise to remove him from office.
Even so, Republicans didn’t run on any agenda of their own in 1998, just as they’re not running on one today. Their campaign message was: If you don’t like the president, vote for us. It didn’t work. Democrats got voters to the polls to defend the president while the Republicans’ message didn’t resonate. Republicans had hoped to pick up 25 House seats that year. They ended up losing five.
Meanwhile, some common sense appears to be coming to the fore from the GOP in D.C.