The 1998 midterm election was a debacle for Republicans, particularly then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Since Reconstruction, no president had seen his party gain seats in the House in a midterm election six years into his presidency. Gingrich, who made the election a referendum on impeaching President Bill Clinton, resigned after the loss. Clearly, voters had sent the signal, “Don’t do it.”
The White House thought it had dodged a bullet. But one morning, over Thanksgiving break, then-White House Chief of Staff John Podesta was running in Washington’s Rock Creek Park when it hit him: GOP leaders are “not going to let their members off the hook. They’re going to beat and beat and beat on them until they vote for impeachment.”
It fell to Podesta to tell the still-celebrating White House staff that the midterms meant nothing, that the push to impeach the president in the House was a runaway train that could not be derailed. “This thing is rigged,” Podesta announced at a Monday-morning staff meeting. “We are going to lose.”
President Trump’s White House could use a John Podesta about now. Because no one seems to have told Trump’s team that the Democrats are every bit as committed to impeaching Trump as the GOP was to impeaching Clinton. The difference, of course, is that the Democrats don’t control the House — yet.
If they did, as the Washington Examiner’s Byron York rightly noted recently, impeachment proceedings would already be underway. And if the Democrats take back the House in 2018, it won’t matter to most members whether the country as a whole supports impeachment, because the voters who elected them — and the donors who supported them — will be in favor of it. (A recent Public Policy Polling survey found that 47 percent of Americans support impeachment while 43 percent oppose it.)