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March 16, 2006
Russ Feingold -- Karl Rove's Secret Weapon

Just a week ago, George Bush appeared to be on the political ropes. Thanks to conservative disappointment, his approval ratings had sunk to the dreadful level of the mid-30s, and his own party had administered a legislative rebuke on a national-security matter. The Democrats had the rare opportunity of having the GOP at war with itself rolling into the midterm elections and for the first time had considered the possibility of retaking control of the House after twelve years of minority status.

And then along came Russ Feingold:

Republicans, worried that their conservative base lacks motivation to turn out for the fall elections, have found a new rallying cry in the dreams of liberals about censuring or impeaching President Bush.

The proposal this week by Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, to censure Mr. Bush over his domestic eavesdropping program cheered the left. But it also dovetailed with conservatives' plans to harness such attacks to their own ends.

With the Republican base demoralized by continued growth in government spending, undiminished violence in Iraq and intramural disputes over immigration, some conservative leaders had already begun rallying their supporters with speculation about a Democratic rebuke to the president even before Mr. Feingold made his proposal.

"Impeachment, coming your way if there are changes in who controls the House eight months from now," Paul Weyrich, a veteran conservative organizer, declared last month in an e-mail newsletter.

The threat of impeachment, Mr. Weyrich suggested, was one of the only factors that could inspire the Republican Party's demoralized base to go to the polls. With "impeachment on the horizon," he wrote, "maybe, just maybe, conservatives would not stay at home after all."

John Conyers has talked impeachment for months, even ginning up a silly "congressional panel" to issue pretend impeachment documents. However, Conyers hasn't been considered a party leader and potential presidential candidate, and until this week Russ Feingold has. He helped push through the BCRA, the favorite legislation of the Exempt Media, and has been hailed by the activist left as their alternative to Hillary Clinton. Feingold hasn't been considered part of the lunatic fringe, at least not until now.

With his attack on the President and his foolish censure motion, Feingold has changed the tone of the midterms single-handedly. Impeachment no longer contains itself to the fringe of party politics, but now has moved front and center to Democratic politics. Feingold has drawn a line in the sand and dared Democrats to cross it and wants to contest the midterms on this proposal.

The GOP could not ask for a better weapon against the Democrats. This will ignite the base, which had been mightily disappointed in Bush for his spending and his lack of focus on border security. The normal sixth-year jockeying for political advantage and the low approval ratings it brings will be forgotten. The conservative base will not stand idly by while the Democrats try to exact a little revenge for their string of electoral losses.

But the damage will not be limited to firing up the GOP base. Swing voters who may have wanted to give Democrats more leverage against the White House to get more of their legislative concerns addressed will not support giving Democrats a majority while they threaten impeachment during a time of war, especially not for taking action in defense of the nation. The far-left Democrats have tied themselves in knots over George Bush that they cannot comprehend how such a move will be viewed by moderates. The American electorate will not vote for impeachment, not when America remains under threat of attack.

Democrats should ask themselves this: do they really think that moderates will vote to support putting Dick Cheney in the Oval Office? Don't get me wrong -- I like Dick Cheney and would sleep well at night having him run the nation. However, with all of the demonization done by the Left about the VP, they're not going to sell the moderates on taking action that would directly result in him taking power. The Democrats might be tempted to say that they will impeach both the President and the Vice President -- which would be an unprecedented and frightening attempt at a coup d'etat, and one which would consign the Democrats to the same fate as the Whigs.

Feingold has the Democrats boxed in. If they proceed with censures and impeachment talk, they lose in November, and lose big. If they back off, they will lose their activist base, which has waited for years to push them into this position. Karl Rove and the Republican team must be breathing huge sighs of relief. Who knew the cavalry would appear in the form of Feingold to rescue the Republican midterms?

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 16, 2006 6:47 AM

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