President Obama's supporters are using fringe threats as a potent fundraising tool. Here's what it looks like.
By almost every indication, President Obama is not going to be impeached.
Sure, there are rabble-rousers like Sarah Palin calling for it, but her influence in the GOP has been waning for years. Party mandarins are hasty to warn against it. And Speaker John Boehner, whose chamber would have to do the impeaching, has ruled it out (though, yes, sometimes Boehner does not seem to have total control over the House). Boehner instead is pursuing a lawsuit against Obama for not enforcing provisions of the Affordable Care Act, a suit that many legal experts judge to be a longshot.
If all you were reading were Democratic email lists, though, you might imagine it was December 1998 all over again. The set of increasingly hysterical missives from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee presents an alternate political history of the last week.
It's no secret why Democrats are so eager to talk about impeachment. By their own admission, it's been a cash cow, drawing in millions of dollars in donations. The fact that it seems to annoy Boehner—who noted early on that this was a fundraising ploy—is political icing on the money cake. The subject lines are easy to mock, but they're an interesting look at how political fundraisers are learning to manipulate supporters. Joshua Green laid out the science behind the Obama reelection campaign's sometimes-silly subject lines in 2012; Democrats have only sharpened those pitches since.
To get a sense of the tone, and volume, of the deluge, here are the emails I've gotten over just the last week, excepting press emails and the like; some people have reported getting even more.
1. July 23: It all begins with a DCCC note asking supporters to sign a virtual birthday card for Obama's 53rd birthday. "Boehner wants to sue President Obama. Palin wants to impeach him. We want to say Happy Birthday!" the message reads.
2. July 24: Next up is a classic Joe Biden plea, asking for donations between $5 and $250.
3. July 25: The next day, the DCCC blasts out a Rachel Maddow quote about Boehner's lawsuit.
4. July 25: Later that day, at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer says the lawsuit is only a first step. "I think Speaker Boehner, by going down the path of this lawsuit, has opened the door to impeachment sometime in the future," he says. The email is about to go from a steady stream to a deluge.
5. July 25: That evening, an apologetic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi follows up.
6. July 26: Apparently the DCCC is cutting down on its sleep; after Pelosi's apology for emailing late on a Friday, the committee apologizes for emailing early the next day. RED ALERT appears to mostly mean asking for money.
7. July 26: Four hours later, Democratic HQ is still on red alert. Update aside, nothing has happened.
The Democratic National Committee, however, doesn't even mention impeachment in an email the next day:
8. July 27: By Sunday night, the counterattack is bearing fruit—or at least money. Although Boehner's position doesn't appear to have changed, the DCCC has raised almost $2 million, and the speaker is apparently STUNNED.
9. July 28: Stunning wasn't enough; a crushing blow is needed.
10. July 28: The DCCC calls on Clinton administration veteran Paul Begala for help.
11. July 28: The DCCC asks the question on everyone's minds. Well, everyone receiving their emails.
12. July 28: If Begala is the good cop, Pelosi is the heavy. And she's got some bad news.
13. July 28: The president himself weighs in: "We keep emailing." You don't say?
14. July 28: And just in case you'd somehow overlooked that personal appeal from the president of the United States ...
15. July 28: Joking aside, one note shows why Democrats keep sending these emails: "We're in range of our single best day of the year!"
16. July 29: On Tuesday, a weary Boehner dismisses the emails to reporter. "Listen, this whole talk about impeachment is coming from the president's own staff, and coming from Democrats on Capitol Hill. Why? Because they're trying to rally their people to give money and to show up in this year's election," he says . "Listen, it's all a scam started by Democrats at the White House." In the DCCC email, this becomes "Boehner 'visibly frustrated' over Democratic fundraising."
17. July 29: The plan is, you give money.
18. July 29: By Tuesday evening, the emails are becoming a running joke among reporters. How to freshen them up? Perhaps a word scramble! (Anagrams of "impeachment" include "Emphatic Men" and "Amen, pitch 'em.")
19. July 29: Democratic HQ is still at red alert, presumably desperately brainstorming subject lines that aren't several days old.
20. July 29: "There’s no doubt that Boehner made the worst blunder of his career when he launched his frivolous lawsuit against President Obama," the DCCC boasts.
21. July 30: Word?
UPDATE: No sooner had I published this post than what should land in my inbox?
NEXT STORY: Who Wins in the Name Game?